There's a telling moment early in Randall Rothenberg's 1994 book, Where the Suckers Moon, an engaging inside tale of honesty, deception, advertising and Subaru marketing.
Rothenberg describes the joy ride of 1986, when times were so good that employees at Subaru of America's New Jersey headquarters stopped saying "hello" and started quoting the stock price of the day.
"$273," Subaru's employees were saying that May, before an eight-for-one split sent fortunes even higher.
Within a year, it was all gone. Subaru's $94 million profit in 1986 had become a $30 million loss 12 months later. Subaru's U.S. sales slipped from a high of 179,100 cars in 1986 to 136,112 in 1989 and 100,407 six years later.
"The real problem that Subaru has," industry analyst Christopher Cedergren said in 1989, "is one of image."
Welcome back to the past, albeit with a decidedly different feel.
Subaru is changing its image again. "Inexpensive" is out. Upscale is in.
Here's a warning: Be careful what you wish for.
To make the move upscale, Subaru had better make sure that its marketing is bulletproof and its dealers know how to sell the product. In other words, remember why it didn't work last time.
"The challenge," Rothenberg says from his New York office, where he now works as an industry consultant, "is that when Subaru has tried this in the past, it has not succeeded."