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Subaru B9 Tribeca. New SUV Falls Short with Subi Purist.

The B9 Tribeca is Subaru’s first effort in designing a larger SUV. It was introduced to the majority of consumers through a 30 second spot featuring the song, “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. The ad concludes with the tagline claiming the B9 brings an end to our perception of what a typical SUV is, and attempts to establish a new definition for the SUV. The song and visual cues of the ad depicts other SUVs (much larger and utilitarian in size and functionality) falling to dust when the B9 crosses their paths.
Unfortunately, the B9 may be the one that will disintegrate and vanish into air before its competitors. It is brought to you by a company known for appealing to a unique group of individuals who are perceived to be tree-huggers and granola-eaters. From an engineering standpoint, the B9 Tribeca is a great vehicle featuring all that Fuji Heavy Industries technology Toyota just bought from General Motors (GM sold its stake in Fuji to Toyota in Fall 2005)… advanced all wheel drive, ABS, other technological features. Although the B9 Tribeca has an impressive and exquisite interior wrapped in a very distinct (controversial) exterior, it is doubtful the new vehicle will appeal to a large audience.
The Subaru B9 Tribeca was included a VehicleVoice Beauty Contest. As expected, its styling was controversial… in the middle of the pack. It will take a person wanting to make a definite statement to buy a B9 Tribeca. Of course, to break out of the product clutter, that is exactly what Subaru was trying to achieve.
Subaru of America Attempting to Move Upmarket
With the introduction of the B9 Tribeca and the earlier intro of its new Legacy lineup, freshened Forester and Impreza, Subaru is trying to reposition and reintroduce themselves to consumers. The question is whether or not Subaru has the goods to move upscale in product content and price.


Three Reasons Why the B9 Tribeca Will Not be as Successful as Anticipated
There are three reasons why the B9 will fall short. It will NOT be a total failure, because many loyal Subaru owners along with some curious luxury buyers will be lured to the B9, especially by its exceptional interior design inspired by an airplane cockpit. But the achievements the B9 will make will be far less than management projected, leaving them asking the question, “Where did we go wrong?” There are three answers. Size, price and image.
First is Size
The original concept of the B9 Tribeca was an SUV intended for Outback and Forester owners who were reluctant, but nevertheless purchasing something other than a Subaru because they needed more space to accommodate their changing lifestyles. These owners wanted a full-size Subaru SUV, but the B9 is not this vehicle. The B9 is larger than an Outback or Forester yes, but not even comparable in size to the SUV’s depicted in the B9’s ads. Comparing it to a Honda Pilot or Toyota Sequoia is laughable. The end of the SUV as we know it? Doubtfully. One of the primary reasons someone buys an SUV is for more space. Subaru says the B9 is a seven passenger vehicle, but unless you are an infant or a Hobbit, you will be hard pressed to find normal sized adults who would be able to fit in the third row. Size will continue to hinder the B9’s success.
The sticker prices on current Subaru models has now positioined them against much larger SUV’s than the B9. Many of these vehicles are less expensive than the comparable Subaru and provide much more useable space. Examples include SUV’s like a Ford Eddie Bauer Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota 4Runner and others. Because of this, price is the next issue.
Second is Price
Subaru’s have always been known to be a good value for your money. Any Subaru purist will remember their ad slogan from the 1970s and ’80s, “Inexpensive, and built to stay that way.” How can a company known for providing consumers with a reliable product at an affordable price suddenly shift focus and believe they can realistically compete against well-known, established and high-priced luxury brands?
Subaru faces an interesting dilemma. How do they convince luxury buyers who have more discretionary income than a typical Subaru buyer to consider purchasing a Subaru? At the same time, how does Subaru of America retain their loyal owner who is more sensitive to price? If Subaru wants to compete with upsale, luxury brands they should follow the approach initiatied by Honda, Nissan and Toyota who created a separate, brand to showcase their models. Those brands are Acura, Infiniti and Lexus respectively… but who needs another Japanese-brand luxury nameplate?
Subaru will find it difficult to convince a sizable number of consumers to spend more than $30,000 on one of their vehicles. Although the WRX STI is still a great buy for the money priced in the lower $30s, Subaru has had no previous history of competing against luxury brands whose vehicles are perceived to be a reasonable value when in the $30,000 range. Subarus are known as a good value. It is difficult to believe buyers will view a Subaru above $30,000 to be a good value. Unless you have been or are a Subaru owner and understand know how awesome Subarus really are, it will be difficult to build a convincing argument for a high value Subaru priced above $30K.
Many wealthy individuals are some of the most frugal people around. They are very price conscious, in some instances even down right cheap. With respect to their vehicles, wealthy people are more concerned about conveying an image and less interested telling others it is a good value.
When someone buys a Ford or Chevy they will tell you how much money they saved. With luxury brands it is the direct opposite. When someone buys a luxury vehicle they would never tell people how much money they saved. Even if they did save, luxury buyers want people to believe they spent a lot of money for the vehicle. Why? Image. When someone purchases a BMW they want people to believe they paid more than sticker. Why? Because it creates a perception they have so much money to spend they do not need to worry about saving.
Third is Image
Size and pricing are measurable variables in the consideration process, and even if the B9 was larger and reasonably priced a target buyer remains to be defined. Why buy the B9 over the other vehicles showcased in the B9’s ad? The others are larger, priced more competitively and fill a specific need. What does a B9 buyer look like? It is certainly not a typical Subaru buyer.
The original concept for the B9 was an SUV for Subaru owners who wanted a larger Subaru than the Outback and Forester. The size of their families grew but their activities and interests remained unchanged, and the B9 falls short in fulfilling the needs, spirit and personality of most Subaru owners and their activities. Subaru owners are value conscious, outdoor enthusiasts, whose vehicles are an integral part of their life, used in the majority of their activities, which can include camping, canoeing, kayaking, skiing, gardening and pet shows. The B9 does not even have roof rails to attach cargo bars to for skis, canoes, kayaks, bikes, etc. But this vehicle was supposed to appeal to buyers outside the traditional Subaru buyer profile. It was trying to reach upscale, luxury buyers.
However, part of the reason people purchase a luxury vehicle is so they are considered part of the upper or upper middle class. Luxury buyers may be very loyal to a particular brand. This is not attributed to the fact the vehicle is a better buy or because fit and finish are better. In fact I would say the fit and finish on the B9 is just as good as anything found on an upscale brand. But luxury vehicles are more about their image. Things like tight tolerances, fit and finish are expected. It is flash over substance. With Subaru their flash is their substance.
A Subaru Should Not Try to Be for Everyone
As in life, a person will not be successful when they try to be all things to all people. You have to remain true to who you are. So should Subaru. Subarus are not for everyone, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. They have a niche in the market and they should work to build its base with individuals whose lifestyles reflect the true DNA of a Subaru. The B9 is part of the new philosophy and comes equipped with all-wheel-drive, but at its core it does not embrace or reflect the authentic spirit of a Subaru.
The refinements made to the current Subaru product lineup are substantial. But Subaru should recognize, understand and design vehicles around their loyal family of buyers. These group of consumers are Subaru’s best chance for longevity and growth in the U.S. market, long after the idea to mold Subaru into an up-scale luxury brand fades into the sunset. Currently Subaru is abandoning these buyers in an unrealistic belief their newly styled vehicles will increase revenue through luxury buyers. Subaru has a strength in being a niche brand. They should expand on this. Do one thing and do it better than your competition. In this arena Subaru can dominate.
Unlike the movie, Field of Dreams, just because you build it does not necessarily mean they will come.

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