The U.S. auto business in 2015 is a Hollywood movie—one big car chase and a happy ending. If there's a hero, it's scrappy little Subaru, the Japanese company best known as Fuji Heavy Industries.
U.S. drivers bought a record 53,070 Subarus in September, a 28 percent increase over the same month last year. No other car company saw sales grow so quickly. In fact, no other company has been close to matching Subaru's sales pace all year.
Fair enough, it's on a hot streak. What's more impressive is that Subaru has been on a hot streak for years. Even as car sales have steadily ramped up of late, the Japanese brand has stayed well ahead of the field.
A weak yen and strong dollar has given Subaru a boost, but the company still has 4,000 workers at a massive factory in Indiana where it pays in dollars. Mostly, it's moving the needle with product. In an SUV-crazed country, half of its models—the Forester, Outback and Crosstrek—fall into precisely the class of vehicles customers want.
"This extraordinary success has been built on a foundation of the right product, the right positioning and most of all, a strong retail network," Thomas Doll, Subaru of America president, said in a statement.
That sounds like a polished bit of PR, but there's more to it than that. This summer, Doll told me Subaru started excelling when it stopped acting like a car company. A few years ago, it started crafting ads around kids and dogs and kayaks, rather than cash-back discounts. And it gave its dealers more support and crafted philanthropic programs to pump money into their communities. Subaru became a lifestyle choice, not a car company.
Meanwhile, it helps that Subaru is still relatively small. The company had a strong sales network in the Northeast and Northwest. Part of the big sales surge we have been seeing is the company's push into the Midwest and the South. Apparently, a lot of people in those places are equally smitten with Subaru as the Northeast.