Underdog Subaru turns 50
NEW YORK — Malcolm Bricklin, best famous for a 1970s gull-wing sports automobile that bears his name, also co-founded Yugo of America in a 1980s. But his many durability grant to a attention came in a 1960s, when he co-founded Subaru of America with business partner Harvey Lamm.
He did it on a wing (to Tokyo) and a prayer, and with nerves of steel.
Special Correspondent Jim Henry interviewed Bricklin, 78, in Dec in his bureau here.
Q: Beginning this story during a end, when did we leave Subaru?
A: we started withdrawal strictly in ’72.
That’s flattering early in Subaru history. What would we contend your purpose was?
I spent my time operative with Fuji [Heavy Industries, Subaru of America’s primogenitor company], removing a agreement … and using after letters of credit for Fuji. The some-more sales there were, a some-more LOCs we needed. Fortunately, we worked it out.
You indispensable financing to get cars, though we indispensable cars to get financing, right?
From a time we put a cars on a ship, it was dual weeks to a West Coast. Then they went to a dealers. The bank had all this money, earning interest, for 4 or 5 or even 6 weeks [while a cars were in transit]. Keep in mind, a primary rate during times in those days was some-more than 15 percent. In a early days, this was a usually approach we could get banks to consider financing Subarus was not a foolish idea.
Why would it be a foolish idea?
Japanese cars didn’t have a good repute they have today. Toyota and Nissan — Datsun, behind afterwards — had usually started entrance behind from carrying a unequivocally lousy reputation.
Subaru had a severe start, too, didn’t it?
I brought in a Subaru 360 [minicar]. Somebody called me and said, “Have we seen Consumer Reports?” we said, “What’s Consumer Reports?” Well, we were on a cover of Consumer Reports with a story that pronounced a 360 was a square of crap compared with a Cadillac. At a time, they had a dissemination of half a million. So we thought, so what? Half a million people saw it, out of how many million in a United States?
But a banks all review them. The dealers all review them. And a floorplan usually stopped. we mean, it usually stopped. Now, I’ve got cars coming, with letters of credit for them. Not usually do we not have income for a cars, now we need even some-more money, to put them in storage. … I’ve got no money. The usually possibility in life is removing a agreement for a bigger car.
You meant bigger than a 360 — a Subaru cars we after would know as a Subaru GL and Subaru DL?
Right. We had to go to Tokyo to get a agreement signed. Now, I’m not in a best negotiating position. We are removing on a plane, Harvey [Lamm] and I, and we get paged, one of those “pick adult a white pleasantness phone” things. It’s my secretary. We’ve got a telex that says, “If a purpose of your revisit is to pointer a contract, don’t come.” But we went anyway. we replied, “We’re entrance — and you’re signing.
How’d it go?
We were there for a week, and we had perceived “no” for an answer each approach it’s probable to be told “no.” Meetings, meetings, meetings, and a answer is “no.” Understand, if we can’t get this changed, I’ve got to go behind and idle a company.
The association that sole a 360, right? So a agreement you’re now negotiating was a opposite contract?
In 1968 — February, we consider it was — we sealed a agreement to move in a 360. We perceived before to that something like 3 cars in 1967, before we signed. But [after a Consumer Reports article] we had stopped shopping 360s. We usually stopped. The new agreement superseded a aged one. It was not an prolongation of a aged agreement in any way.
If Fuji Heavy pronounced no, how did we get them to contend yes?
It all came down to one final dinner, with Mr. [Eiichi] Ohara [who was after boss and authority of Fuji Heavy Industries]. we had always felt good in his company. And he was powerful. So we’re during this dinner, and a song is blustering — blustering like an earthquake. And we’re jet-lagged and exhausted, and there are drinks, and we’re smoking — Marlboros — like chimneys, like everybody did behind in those days — and we get such a headache.
They wanted to repel a code from a U.S. temporarily and try again later.
Yes. Nothing is working. we used a same, judicious arguments, over and over: They indispensable continuity. They couldn’t destroy a dealers and design to come back. They indispensable to continue training about a U.S. market. Wow — usually meditative about it, we can feel that headache.
What was their response?
They told us, “Sorry, a car’s not ready.” We had already been there 400,000 times, and we knew a automobile was ready. Harvey turns to me and says, “What are we going to do?” we said, “Be prepared, since this could means a extensive volume of not-niceness.”
What happened next?
Now, we don’t consider it’s OK to insult people, though we did something that was totally out of character. we leaned opposite a list to Mr. Ohara and this, this — volume of things usually came out. The crux of what we told him was, “Not going brazen now would means a worse problem for we than a fight ever did!”
Harvey is most stealing underneath a table. If we had an worker who talked that approach to somebody, we would have dismissed them. But when we was all finished, [Ohara] said, “You have a contract.”
What do we consider altered his mind?
I consider he could clarity — how shall we contend it? — a frankness of a desperation.
Suddenly, we were a heroes of a world. Then we started traffic of a agreement with Mr. Ohara [especially a duration]. … He said, “All right, 25 years.” But we said, “No, we need perpetual.” He said, “But in other markets, we never contend perpetual. Can we contend it, and we usually don’t tell anybody?” we said, “It’s a publicly traded company. It’ll be in a initial agreement — finish of story.” And we got perpetual. That unequivocally altered a relationship.
Why did we go public, anyway, with all a weight of reporting?
We satisfied we indispensable some-more equity to get a funding, so we motionless to go public. But nobody would take us public.
We drew it adult so it was intra-Pennsylvania, underneath this special thing for companies in Pennsylvania — it couldn’t be bought or traded anywhere else. After dual years, we could trade it anywhere. we consider we were a usually open association to use that format that didn’t go bankrupt. a