Independent (in-de-PEN-dent): Not subject to the authority of another; autonomous; self-determining; free.
The definition fits Ernest Boch, owner of Subaru of New England, one of the nation's few remaining independent auto distributorships.
Boch's independent streak also extends to product planning. His latest brainstorm is the 'sport-utility sedan.' It may sound odd, but Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. has agreed to build a new Subaru model based on Boch's idea. It is tentatively called the Outback sedan.
The Legacy four-door sedan with the Subaru Outback trim and equipment package is slated to join the Subaru lineup in 1998, following an early-1998 debut on the U.S. auto show circuit.
In hindsight, the concept seems inevitable, considering the increasingly blurry lines between cars and trucks, but Boch seems to have gotten there first.
'I like to try new things all the time,' said Boch (pronounced 'Bock').
CRAZY - LIKE A FOX
Everyone else refers to him as Ernie, but Boch seems to prefer Ernest. For years, he was 'Mister Easy,' with a piercing New England accent, on his own TV commercials. But as one of the buccaneers who started the Japanese import business, he has to be taken very seriously.
For 30 years, for instance, Boch took flak because he insisted on exclusive dealerships while most other importers, including Subaru, were overwhelmingly dualed. Now, his network of 53 exclusive dealers is the envy of other marketers in the crowded Northeast.
Boch recalled in a recent phone interview that he suggested the sport-utility sedan over dinner two years ago, while in Japan for the Tokyo auto show.
He said Subaru of America President George Muller 'saw some merit in it,' but most U.S. officials were 'very, very skeptical.' They were afraid the sedan would steal sales from the successful Outback wagon.
But Tamon Yamamoto, managing director of parent company Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., took the suggestion to heart, and in about four months, Subaru had a prototype for him to look at, Boch said.
In a unique experiment, Boch agreed to buy 300 Indiana-built prototypes of the new model for the 1997 model year.
Not all the dealers who had to sell the Outback sedan, which is priced at about $25,285 including freight and options, were overjoyed.
'Personally, I was against it,' said William DiCarlo, dealer principal of Norwood (Mass.) Subaru, in the same town as Boch's headquarters.
Boch got the last laugh, when New England dealers quickly sold the 300.
Said DiCarlo: 'Initially, the joke among dealers and some people at Subaru was that it should be called the 'Out-Boch.' '