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Enhancing Product Value with Subaru’s Design and Digital Tools

Subaru has developed a unique design strategy using digital tools. FOURIN has conducted an interview with Mr. Mamoru Ishii, the director of Subaru’s design department, to learn about the company’s design activities.

Subaru carries out development primarily in Japan, but products are mainly sold overseas. Eighty five percent of all products are sold overseas, 80 percent of which in North America. Although Subaru sells globally, the company finds it difficult to develop products for each market around the world due to development resource issues. For this reason, the cars developed by Subaru are basically unified models for the global market.

It is not easy to handle multiple markets with different environments with only one model. Therefore, Subaru aims to improve creativity in design activities based on objective analysis and thinking using digital tools.

One example of using digital tools is Subaru’s so called “standard market model.” Popular models sold in the market are measured in 3D, and 350 points vital for car design are digitized. It is not just an average but a weighted evaluation of the points of car models that sell well. With reference to the completed standard market model, the company’s creates a design that takes advantage of Subaru’s strengths.

In particular, Subaru’s main target group sees cars as family members or partners rather than just a means of transportation and uses them with a special attachment for many years. The company’s main target group attaches importance to functionality and practicality which Subaru incorporates into its design. For example, the new Forester’s window was enlarged to improve visibility, and the rear gate opening was expanded. Subaru tries to make it possible for customers to imagine how to use their cars at a glance. Subaru’s design team builds emotional value into functional value and creates globally applicable product value.

Subaru’s Design: Enhancing Emotional / Functional Product Value Using Digital Tools

Based on an interview with Ishii Mamoru (General Manager, Design Department, Product Planning & Portfolio Division, Subaru Corporation) at Subaru Corporation’s Head Office in Tokyo on July 19, 2019

Creating product value, not design

Subaru’s design team keeps it in mind that we create product value, not design. In general, design is based on a solid logical strategy on which emotional value is built. The principle remains the same when introducing digital tools into design activities. Digital tools help logical thinking and enhance the creation of emotional value. By utilizing digital tools, design, that is, product value can be dramatically increased.

Indispensable digital tools

Subaru is relatively small in the automotive industry, but is active globally. Eighty five percent of all products are sold overseas, 80 percent of which in North America. On the other hand, development is mainly conducted in Tokyo and Gunma, Japan (There is also a satellite studio in the United States.). In other words, products are developed in Japan but sold overseas.

For Subaru, it is difficult to make vehicles specialized for each market. For this reason, the cars developed by Subaru are basically unified models for the global market. It is necessary to gain insights into different environments and customer values of each market and incorporate them into the design. Moreover, the work must be performed accurately while ensuring quick response. Digital tools are indispensable to achieve this.

Considering product value

Digital tools are auxiliary. What is important is what kind of product value is conveyed to customers using digital tools. In other words, the basic design strategy is considered first. Subaru’s corporate theme is “safety and enjoyment.” Substituting this with design, Subaru’s design team defines two things “lifestyle design” and “long life design.”

Lifestyle design refers to the design of a car to become a good partner and family of the customer and make life more enjoyable. Long life design refers to the design of a car that customers can continue to ride for 10 years with attachment. We have previously investigated the remaining rate of cars 10 years after purchase (the percentage of cars that have not been scrapped). According to this study, the remaining rate of Subaru cars after 10 years is 98 percent. This number is probably the top in the automotive industry. In that sense, Subaru vehicle design is required to maintain customer-friendly freshness even after 10 years in order to maintain customer attachment.

Considering customer base when creating “design = product value”

The sales volume of Subaru, whose main battlefield is North America, did not drop during the Lehman shock. This is because Subaru has many clients with sound occupations such as lawyers, doctors and teachers, and their solid lifestyle was hardly affected by the financial depression. People, who have a certain educational background, have a solid income, and spend money on their hobbies, give priority to practicality and safety when it comes to choosing a car.

For example, there is a magazine called Consumer Reports in the United States that evaluates products in a fair and neutral position. Car crash safety test results are regularly announced, and most Subaru models receive top safety evaluation which is called “Top Safety Pick+.” Many customers choose Subaru because they place importance on the commercial value of utility and safety.

Subaru positions active people with a solid occupation who always want to enjoy life as “active life people” or “active lifestyle people,” and sees them as its core target group.

Vehicle that survives the sharing era

For active life people, cars are like families and partners. It is not just a means of transportation, it becomes a tool and enhances their hobbies and lifestyles.

In the automobile industry, presence of coupe-style SUVs is increasing recently. This is because many car manufacturers focus only on the movement of “people.” It can be said that the concept of sedan is adopted in the trendy SUV style.

With such a trend, Subaru is aware of “people who use cars as tools” and “people who load things into the car and go somewhere.”

A taxi may suffice if people only move. In the future, if sharing becomes widespread, mobility providers such as Uber will replace automakers. Even in such a future, Subaru cars will continue to be owned as favorite tools, close families and partners.

Not too outstanding, not too ordinary

Subaru’s steady customers are rather conservative and tend not to choose cars with unusual designs. In short, they are people who like “ordinary.” Unusual designs that deviate significantly from market trends are not considered by potential Subaru customers. On the other hand, a design without individuality does not sell well. Balancing between these two points is difficult.

In order to think “ordinary,” Subaru uses digital tools to determine a central design that is influential in the market and calculates consumer ratings relatively and quantitatively. This is what Subaru calls the standard market model.

Developing strength with reference to standard market models

Consumers compare their car to their daily routine and think about the next car they want to buy. The car they usually see remains in their mind, leading to the image of the car they want to buy next. Subaru digitally captures cars which are sold in a segment to create a single standard market model for that segment.

Subaru measures the top 80 percent (5-7 models) of vehicles sold in each segment in 3D, and digitizes all 350 points of the body that are important for design. For example, the base point of the A pillar is measured to specify the average position. In that case, we multiply the coefficient of the number of vehicles sold and give a weighted evaluation of the points of the cars that are selling well. A 3D model can be created this way which becomes the standard market model.

The resulting standard market model should be close to the car image that consumers are aware of in the market. Using this as a reference, Subaru is expanding its strength in areas in which it wants to appeal to consumers.

Creating something different from standard market models

Regarding standard market models, Subaru adds something extra to the design to attract active lifestyle consumers.

For example, when the Forrester was developed, the standard market model was a fast-back style rounded design, but the Forrester was designed with a square shape in consideration of easy loading.

Many fastback styles sold by other companies start to incline the roof right above the rear tire. On the other hand, the rear end of the roof of the Subaru Forester is behind the rear tire.

In the US, there are customers who put dog cages in the rear. So Subaru designed the Forester with large dog cages in mind. With the popular fastback style, the rear gate will not close due to the protrusion of the corner of the dog cage. By moving the rear end of the roof backward, the dog cage fits properly. In this way, we pursue designs that arise from practicality.

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