TOKYO — Stung by recalls and quality slips, Subaru is racing to fix problems from recent product launches so they won't carry over and mar the critical launch of the next-generation Outback.
The hot-selling Japanese automaker is showing gains in some key areas, but the campaign to improve quality — a vexing issue at both its Japanese assembly plant and its American plant — is a work in progress, internal documents show.
Subaru is rushing to resolve lingering problems with North American suppliers and components as it prepares the redesigned Outback crossover, one of the brand's most important nameplates. Part of the challenge is fixing glitches that cropped up during the launch of the Ascent last year.
Internal reports on the progress, obtained by Automotive News, indicate that nearly half of Subaru's suppliers were recently operating at quality levels below Subaru's internal target. To boost performance, Subaru is overhauling its own production processes and working with suppliers.
They also show plenty of finger-pointing, with blame being spread among factory workers, designers in Japan and parts suppliers.
Subaru is scrambling to get its house in order before the problems undermine the brand's stellar public image. Indeed, despite an uptick in Subaru recalls, consumers keep clamoring for more of the brand's vehicles. Subaru is on track for a remarkable 11th-straight year of record U.S. sales in 2019.
Subaru is now focused on earning, in 2020, the top spot in Consumer Reports' reliability ranking and escaping the lower ranks of J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study, which is widely cited in auto advertising. Those goals were outlined in an internal report about Subaru of Indiana Automotive, the company's manufacturing operations in Lafayette, Ind., issued in April by the company's quality planning and management department.
In the closely watched Auto Reliability Survey from Consumer Reports, Subaru flourishes, finishing fourth in the fall 2018 report and second when the magazine updated the survey's scores this spring. It wants to jump to No. 1 in 2020, the Subaru document says.
But in J.D. Power's IQS report card, Subaru has consistently struggled. In 2018, it ranked fourth from the bottom in the industry, with 115 problems per 100 vehicles.
Subaru's internal report said it wanted to "break out of the bottom" and improve to 101 problems in 2019, then move up to "middle ranking," with 90 problems in 2020. But in the 2019 results, released last week, it finished seventh from the bottom, with 113 problems.