WASHINGTON -- Fresh off consecutive years of record sales but hit hard by the effects of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Subaru of America will try to maintain its momentum in new markets by offering customers, dealers and salespeople assistance until full production resumes.
Tom Doll, Subaru of America COO, said the automaker's inventory could drop to 17,000 units this summer, leaving some dealers without cars to sell. On May 1, Subaru's North American inventory was 32,800 units.
We'll be down to cash-for-clunkers levels by August," Doll said on the sidelines of an industry event here. "We're looking at retail solutions."
Doll would not disclose the nature of the assistance but said Subaru's global headquarters is considering a proposal. If approved, new programs will be unveiled by July.
Subaru's main plant is in Gunma prefecture, north of Tokyo. The company produces the Legacy, Outback and Tribeca in Lafayette, Ind.
Doll said Subaru could see a 20 percent drop in U.S. sales this year after a record 263,820 units sold in 2010. Subaru sold 216,652 units in 2009 and expected to sell 300,000 units this year.
Doll's biggest concern is the brand's newest markets. He said Subaru was able to increase its dealer body by adding former Chrysler Group and General Motors stores in the South. Now, lacking inventory, he wants to keep everyone happy.
"The challenge will be satisfying new dealers and customers in a time of lean production," he said.
He said the company is considering ways to help its retail network, including assistance for salespeople and customers.
Subaru already is extending lease terms by three to five months, offering maintenance programs and free accessories such as ski racks.
"We've got to the point where we've got good volumes in those areas and now our volumes are going down," he said. "We'll come up with some assistance to get them over the inventory lull."