TAIPEI – Stymied by Cambodians’ taste for big showy SUVs, Subaru will embark next year on a novel strategy to get drivers behind the wheels of their cars, known for safety and driveability.
Subaru’s dealer in Phnom Penh will import used Subarus from the United States and then sell them under warranty in Cambodia, for roughly half the price of Subarus fresh from the factory in Japan.
By selling “pre-owned” cars at $20,000 or below from their dealership on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard, Subaru hopes to build a following here for Subarus, which have strong reputation in the United States, Europe and much of Asia for safety, affordability and sporty handling. Due to high import taxes on new cars, about 123 percent, a new Subaru retails in Cambodia for $50,000-60,000.
Much like Phnom Penh building developers shifting their sites from the ultra wealthy, Subaru aims at Cambodia’s growing middle and upper middle classes.
“Our goal is to get Cambodians behind the wheel of a Subaru,” said Glenn Tan chairman of Motor Image Group, Subaru’s exclusive distributor for most of the 10-nation Asean bloc. Mr. Tan said used cars account for about 90 percent of Cambodia’s annual car sales.
“If you don’t drive the car, it is very hard to feel it,” he said. “With more and more Cambodians driving the car, they will feel the focus on driveability.”
Currently, the most popular Subaru in Cambodia is the Forester, a modified SUV with a relatively high clearance. Mr. Tan said that his group’s plant in Malaysia would start producing the Forester next year. Sales largely have been to expats who arrive with the experience of driving Subarus.
“In Cambodia, safety is a problem,” said Jonathan Tan, who oversees sales in Cambodia and Vietnam. Subaru’s high safety rankings contributes to expats visiting the Subaru dealership in Phnom Penh, he said.
The dealership will soon start taking orders for a second model, the Levorg, a four-door sports wagon. In its first sales year, ending May 2015, Subaru sold 45,000 Levorgs in Japan, the country of manufacture.
The Levorg is agile and responsive, with fast acceleration and good cornering ability.
The road-hugging Levorg has a slightly lower road clearance than the 220 millimeters of the Forester.
Three modifications have been made to sell to Asean markets, said Toshio Ono, product planning division manager of Fuji Heavy Industries, the manufacturer.
“We changed three things: torque, the tires, from Dunlop to Bridgestone, and the shock absorbers,” he said.
Russ Swift, a British precision driver, got behind the wheel of a Levorg here last week for a stunt show. He drove the car on two wheels before a crowd of automotive industry journalists. “The fact I can jump in and do what I did there, means it is very responsive,” Mr. Swift said. Saying it was the first time he had driven the Levorg, he added: “It feels very sporty.”
Asked about handling for Cambodia’s rough roads, the 63-year-old stunt driver said: “Subaru, when it came to the UK, first sold to the off-road people, the farmers.”
For Subaru, the Levorg will be aimed at Phnom Penh’s emerging middle class, urban families who drive to the mall on weekends. “It’s a robust, practical and fun car,” said Glenn Tan. “There is room for kids, pets, shopping, but it is also sporty to drive.”