Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the change in U.S. sales of the Subaru Legacy for the first two months. Legacy sales were up 102 percent through February compared with the same period in 2009. The original sentence has been removed from this version of the story.
LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Subaru's plant managers here are struggling to keep up with strong demand for the brand's popular Outback wagon.
The success of the Outback, which debuted last summer, is the key reason Subaru enjoyed the highest percentage U.S. sales increase of any brand last year and has continued to outpace the market in 2010.
Since December, Subaru of Indiana Automotive has twice boosted the speed of production at its plant here. The company now plans to speed up the line again in April and will do it once more in July. Each change represents a 5 to 6 percent increase in line speed.
"We're already running daily overtime and working Saturdays," says Motokiyo Nomura, Subaru of Indiana CEO. "We've been talking to our suppliers to make sure they're ready to operate at a higher volume. Is it sufficient? I'm not sure."
Subaru was one of only three brands, along with Hyundai and Kia, that increased U.S. sales in 2009. Subaru grew 15 percent in a market down 21 percent.
So far this year, Subaru is up 33 percent. Dealers sold 11,657 Outbacks in the first two months of 2010.
The Outback was added to the production roster in Indiana last summer, along with a new-generation Legacy sedan. At its current production rate, Subaru of Indiana is turning out about 13,000 Outbacks, Legacys and Tribeca SUVs a month. But dealers have been asking for more.
With Outback demand surging, Subaru production at Lafayette has more than doubled compared with the first two months of 2009.
Subaru of Indiana has a separate line that produces the Toyota Camry.
Line speed changes can require months of planning. The changes involve training workers, rescheduling personnel and parts delivery, and coordinating with key suppliers.
Scott Brand, Subaru of Indiana's vice president of manufacturing and materials, says the plant has been developing new ways to simplify and quicken production. One way is by "kitting," in which a team of employees selects the necessary assembly parts for a module and places them in cartons that move through the plant with the module.
Brand says the practice reduces the amount of walking and parts-picking each worker must do at his workstation.