NEW YORK – Over lunch with Subaru dealer George Glassman last year, our conversation turned to Tom Doll, a long-time executive of Subaru of America.
“You know, it’s been long enough; they should make him the CEO,” Glassman, owner of the Glassman Auto Group in Southfield, MI, told me. “He’s earned that.”
During decades with Subaru of America, Doll has occupied various positions, from chief financial officer to executive vice president to president.
Now, at last, he’s getting the top spot.
At the debut of the fifth-generation ’19 Subaru Forester midsize CUV at the New York International Auto Show, it was noted Doll would become SOA’s CEO. Current CEO Tomomi Nakamura moves to president of Subaru Corp. in Japan, the automaker’s homeland.
I first met Doll during a press event for the first-generation Forester held in the state of Washington in 1997. He told me then how Subaru had struggled in the U.S. That spurred the company to make a bold move: It put all-wheel drive in all of its vehicles. That put sales on the right track. They started climbing and still are.
The last recession hit auto companies especially hard. U.S. sales went off a cliff and struck the rocks below. Only one auto company posted a year-over-year U.S. sales increase in 2008: Subaru. Glassman had called me back then to point that out.
It was a fractional gain of 0.3% (total sales for the year were 187,699 units), but it was a feat considering the harsh circumstances. It stood out amid a long list of automaker negative numbers, most of them in the double digits, such as Chrysler’s scary 30.3% drop.
Subaru sales in the U.S. last year hit 647,956, a 5.3% increase. The company has had 10-straight years of growth, which is one reason Doll got the top job at SOA, a company Malcolm Bricklin started 50 years ago. It was one of his better ideas; building a short-lived car named after himself (and one that makes a lot of today’s worst-cars-ever lists) wasn’t.
That first-generation Forester media event in Washington was the first auto “ride-and-drive” I attended. I traveled up and down some crazy gravel and mountainous roads there with the late rally driver Peter “Possum” Bourne. He showed what great driving is. (He died in 2003 in a non-competitive crash in his native New Zealand when the driver of a Jeep head-on hit the Forester Bourne was driving.)
In contrast to how skillfully Bourne drove when I was with him in Washington, a fellow auto journalist the next day showed the opposite in driving talents by losing control and putting a Forester in a river. No one was hurt, but the Subaru PR guy at the time, Alex Fedoroff, sure seemed sore.
“We believe 2018 will be another record year for Subaru, for sure,” Doll says on the sidelines of the ’19 Forester debut.
Subaru offers interest-rate and lease incentives to stay competitive. But unlike some other automakers, it doesn’t dole out cash-on-the-hood customer inducements. Doll says he hates those.
“If it’s up to me I would never put a cash incentive on any vehicle,” he tells me as he stands next to a shiny ’19 Forester on stage in New York. “Why destroy brand value? We’ve worked too hard to do that. What is price? It’s the value the customer is willing to pay, and our cars are worth it.”
He adds, “Tell George Glassman I said hello.”