Subaru taps North American head as new global president


Yoshinaga (left), Nakamura (right) are shown at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday. Photo credit: Hans Greimel

TOKYO — Subaru Corp. has named North America boss Tomomi Nakamura its new global president, tapping a marketing veteran who oversaw rampant sales growth in the U.S.

Nakamura, 58, assumes the duties from Yasuyuki Yoshinaga in June, pending approval at the Japanese company’s annual shareholders’ meeting, Subaru said on Friday. Yoshinaga, 63, who concurrently serves as president and CEO, will keep the CEO title while stepping up as chairman.

Nakamura’s tenure in the U.S. was marked by rapidly rising production and a string of record sales years. But he returns to headquarters in Japan facing new challenges on the wider stage.

In the home market, Subaru is grappling with the aftermath of a vehicle inspection scandal, and overseas it must contend with the overall U.S. market slowdown and feeble sales in China.

Meanwhile, the niche-sized all-wheel-drive specialist must also adapt to the industry’s seismic shift toward electrification, autonomous driving and new fields such as artificial intelligence.

As president, Nakamura will tackle such daily operations, while Yoshinaga focuses on bigger themes, including improving corporate compliance in the wake of the inspection missteps.

“This will not mean we will have two top leaders,” Yoshinaga said a news conference here. “I will pass day-to-day operations to Nakamura, and I myself will focus on the remaining tasks.”

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Nakamura was appointed chairman and CEO of Subaru of America in April 2014. In that role, he oversaw operations in the U.S. and Canada, including production.

As part of the management shuffle, Tom Doll will be promoted to CEO of Subaru of America, from his current role as chief operating officer, Nakamura said in Tokyo. The SOA chair will remain vacant. Jinya Shoji, currently corporate vice president for global marketing, will be dispatched to work under Doll as a local executive vice president, Nakamura said.

Nakamura said his time in America will help him run worldwide operations.

“Seeing Subaru from outside Japan, I am aware of both strengths and weaknesses of this company,” he said. “I would like to incorporate a new perspective in leading the company.”

Boom time

Yoshinaga caps a seven-year run as president in which Subaru leapt from record to record thanks to hot U.S. sales of such stalwart nameplates as the Outback crossover.

Yoshinaga was named president and chief operating officer in June 2011 and added the CEO title a year later. Nakamura also takes the COO title in addition to the presidency.

A three-year streak of record global operating profit and net income came to an end only last March, after earnings were dented by foreign exchange losses and rising costs. Costs climbed partly to invest in increased production capacity in the U.S. and Japan to feed booming demand.

Subaru is now on pace for a 10th-straight year of record U.S. retail sales. The arrival this year of the new Ascent seven-seat SUV will buoy sales by taking Subaru into a new segment.

But slowing overall demand in the U.S. also poses risks because Subaru’s portfolio is heavily skewed toward it. The U.S. accounts for about 65 percent of the automaker’s global volume.

Among Nakamura’s tasks will be balancing Subaru’s global portfolio, especially by devising a strategy for China. Subaru is a microscopic player in the world’s biggest auto market, where it lacks the local production base needed to duck steep tariffs on imported vehicles.

Chairman Jun Kondo, who oversees the China Project Office, said earlier this year his task force was “considering how to survive there.” Kondo retires under the management shuffle.

Inspection scandal

In Japan, Subaru is trying to win back trust after disclosing late last year that uncertified workers had for decades carried out tests of new cars for the domestic market.

The inspection trouble led Subaru recall 417,288 vehicles in Japan, including the Toyota 86 sporty coupe, which is manufactured by Subaru.

Subaru is also investigating reports it fudged fuel economy data in the home market.

Subaru’s sales in Japan tumbled 22 percent in January, for third-straight month of decline.

As part of efforts to recover from the inspection trouble, Subaru said March 2 it will create an internal unit charged with cultivating a “company doing the right thing in the right way.”

The department will promote companywide efforts to improve customer trust, Subaru said.

Subaru will also establish an independent Compliance Office to strengthen the company’s efforts to comply with laws and regulations. Yoshinaga will oversee both initiatives.

Subaru is still compiling a final report on the fuel economy probe, Yoshinaga said.

“According to our internal report, we take it that data fudging did take place, although it does not affect the quality of our cars,” he said. The full findings will be released later, he added.

“I believe that the root of the problem is in our corporate culture.”

Nakamura holds a law-degree from Japan’s prestigious Keio University. He joined Fuji Heavy Industries in 1982 and worked in various sales, marketing and planning roles. Fuji Heavy changed its name to Subaru last year to improve brand recognition of its leading products.

Nakamura, who counts horse racing among his favorite pastimes, is married with a son and daughter. But during his time overseas, he also missed another family member.

“I was posted in the U.S. for four years alone and left my dog in Japan,” he said. “So, I would like to spend more time with my dog.”

Naoto Okamura contributed to this report


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