Subaru Launches Web Pages for Car Owners

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Subaru of America Inc. will soon introduce Web pages for owners of Subaru cars, a move that goes beyond regular online owners clubs by allowing the automaker to converse directly with customers based on their specific vehicle and preferences.

The development is a precursor to Subaru's plans next year to test car sales at in association with authorized company dealers.

Called, the subsite will store information on the individual car, convey product and accessories offers from Subaru and its partners and track maintenance, warranty and service work.

"What we're really looking to do with this is to make it really easy to do business with us as owners and build the long-term relationship," said Tim Colbeck, director of e-business at Subaru, Cherry Hill, NJ.

"It's much better for Subaru to have loyal customers than try to keep acquiring new conquest customers. So we want to build on the relationship that we start with the customer when they buy the car and make it easy for them throughout and communicate with them throughout their ownership experience."

Once registered through proper identification and a PIN, Subaru car owners use a password to enter their personalized Web location at

In addition to service history and maintenance notices, Subaru car owners can link to preferred dealers, calculate trade-in value, request news and information, read fellow-owners' stories and learn about vehicle recall and service campaigns.

Dawn McGreevey, automotive analyst at Gomez Advisors, Lincoln, MA, thinks is a step in the right direction for the automaker.

"What it's going to do is open up the lines of communication between Subaru and its customers, and it's going to open them up not just at the end of the lease term when Subaru says, 'Hey, we want you to buy another car,' but all along the way," McGreevey said.

"With reminders that you need to come in for service and things like that in a durable good, consumers appreciate being reminded of that," she said. "I think all the manufacturers are moving towards doing this kind of [electronic customer relationship management] and with the car, it always needs to be serviced or there's a recall or things like that."

When it formally rolls out next month, Subaru initially will target at recent customers, particularly December buyers and those owners who previously tested the service.

"Our launch is going prospectively to the newest owners and then we're working our way backwards," Colbeck said. "Our next wave will be all 1999 model year and newer models, and that should occur sometime in January. And then, by the end of January, we want to have more functionality available to all Subaru owners."

News of will be spread through e-mail via addresses collected from owners at the time of the car's purchase and through post-transaction surveys assessing customer experience and satisfaction. Subaru's Drive magazine for car owners also will be involved.

"It's an opt-in concept," Colbeck said. "So consumers will opt in for the types of information they want, but the opportunities are great when we know exactly what car this owner has, where we can market specific accessories that apply to that car, through the owner, through the lifestyle.

"On overstocked or additional accessories we may run a special on them and send them that. So we can sell them Subaru products at the same time if we know their lifestyle preferences. There may be L.L. Bean clothing or some of our other partners such as Dagger, whose offers we can target to our owners."

A division of Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., Subaru claims a 1 percent share of the U.S. auto market, or between 160,000 and 170,000 vehicles out of the total 17 million-plus car purchases estimated for this year.

Web pages were first tested four months ago with a select group of 4,000 Subaru owners. The encouraging response prompted an across-the-board rollout.

"Realistically we're looking at an owner base from the last five to seven years of about 1 million owners that we're looking to somehow contact," Colbeck said. "We've developed a very scalable site."

McGreevey agrees with Subaru's customer retention strategy.

"Obviously, they say, in general, it costs five times as much to get a new customer versus retaining a current customer, so I think you've got a lot of potential there," McGreevey said. "Subaru has really loyal customers so it seems like they've done their research now that their owners are pretty Web-savvy."

The site itself underwent an extensive makeover in July. Features added include a Shop@Subaru section, a dealer price-quote system, more links to dealer sites and better navigation.

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