ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

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Subarus and the Northeast.

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I’m reading Randall Rothenburg’s Where Suckers Moon: An advertising story. In the book, he followed executives from Subaru of America while they searched for a new advertising agency in 1990, found their new agency, Wieden + Kennedy, and eventually divorced their agency.  At the time that Rothenburg was writing, the most Subarus were sold in the Northeast and in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, with almost no sales in the Midwest, California, Arizona and the South. I have tried fruitlessly to provide some contemporary numbers on Subaru sales, to confirm that this trend continues, but alas, it seems these illusive figures sit behind a paywall at Wards Autos, the IMS* of the car industry.

Reading this book has made me notice that there are a LOT of Subarus being driven around here. A LOT. I’ll do some back-of-the-napkin data collecting later, but there are some times at the dog park that my Acura is the only non-Subaru in the parking lot. The COOP lot is always full of Forresters and Outbacks, and my workplace has a fair share of Subarus hanging out in the parking lot.

Why are Subarus so popular in the Northeast?

Up here, there doesn’t seem to be the misconception that a Subaru is a car for a lesbian, ala Lezbaru. I see plenty of men driving them. I think the perception that the Subaru Outback is one of the gayest cars of all time (meaning driven by homosexuals, not meaning the derogatory use of “gay”) came while Subaru began making inroads into the Southwest and Midwest, increased sales, and became a more widely known car company. From the information in Rothenburg’s book, Subaru has been selling lots of cars in the Northeast since the Subaru 360 was released in the 1970s.

Rothenburg argues that Subarus are cheap and have 4-wheel drive, traits that appeal to Northeasterners who travel up and down hills with rain and snow. Although this argument likely explains the popularity of the car in the pre-SUV era, today there are plenty of cars that drive well in the snow and rain. Plus, Subarus ain’t cheap any more. You can get a Forrester kitted out with leather and heated steering wheel (Isn’t that a feature built for Northeasterners?), Bose sound system, remote start, iPhone controls and the like for $36,000+. It’s no Audi, but it’s not a cheap car anymore.

Have people just kept buying Subarus out of loyalty? This may explain why the Northeast continues to be a stronghold of Subaru sales, but wouldn’t explain the overall growth of Subaru since the 1990s. Although Subaru is only the 21st largest car manufacturer, they’re now one of the top-rated car manufacturers.

Subaru Dealerships in America. One dot = one dealer. I'm relying on Google to identify dealerships...

Subaru Dealerships in America. One dot = one dealer. I’m relying on Google to identify dealerships… Note these dealerships cluster in target markets: The Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and the Mountainous West. Now there is newer growth in population centers like Southern California, New York/New Jersey, and Florida.
Toyota Dealerships in America. Contrasted to Subaru dealerships, they're more spread out into the Midwest, and not so heavily clustered. Toyota Dealerships in America. Contrasted to Subaru dealerships, they’re more spread out into the Midwest, and not so heavily clustered.

I suspect that part of the reason so many people own Subarus is because, historically, they were heavily promoted in the Northeast, and were great cars tailored specifically for people living in snowy, hilly areas. This resulted in a higher density of Subaru dealerships in the area. Today, while the Subaru isn’t the only good car in the snow or on the hills, the dealerships have big quotas to meet every year, hence they get lots of people to buy Subarus. It’s the dealers driving the sales.

*(How do you make asides or footnotes in blog posts?) IMS is a company that gathers information on all of the filled prescriptions from pharmacies. They make big bucks selling this information to drug companies, which they use to determine how well their drug is selling. Wards Auto gets information from dealership about each car sold in America including the dealership, the options on the car, the sticker price and the negotiated price. They sell the information back to the car manufacturers, wholesalers and dealers so they can tell how well their cars are selling in comparison to their competition.

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