SUBARU FORESTER: Alex Parker says he used to own a Subaru Forester and it was practically invincible. Image: Subaru
Tokyo - In a little-reported incident in Japan earlier in April, the board of a company called Fuji Heavy Industries met for an extraordinary meeting and agreed to change the name of the company, which is has had since 1953, to Subaru Corp.
Yup, Fuji Heavy Industries’s principal – if not only - business is Subaru, arguably the most Japanese of the Japanese car manufacturers, and dropping Fuji Heavy Industries for Subaru no doubt reflects this reality and a branding drive for the company. It’ not yet fully signed off, but it looks like a done deal at this point.
What's in a name?
But, if I may beg an indulgence, as an unrepentant Subaru fan I’d like to put it on record that how we name things is very important indeed. When we think about naming companies or products, it forces us to go through an intellectual process that asks us to distill away the nonsense, to fully engage with and understand the essence of the entity, and to express it in a new name. We can’t sensibly name things we don’t interrogate intimately.
There’s nothing wrong with Subaru, of course. It’s the Japanese name for the Pleiades star cluster, and associated with the concept of unity in Japan. It also symbolises the six companies that came together to form Fuji Heavy Industries. Those six stars appear on the Subaru logo. So that’s all perfectly sensible. It expresses the heritage of the company as well as its Japanese character.
But let’s hope the tail doesn’t wag the dog here. To me, Fuji Heavy Industries mattered because it expressed the heart and soul of what makes Subarus great: solid, unashamedly focussed engineering. There’s a reason Subarus are such great cars to drive. They’re engineered without distraction, and the result has always been phenomenally reliable, brilliant-to-drive family all-wheel-drive cars.
I used to own a Forester and it was almost literally indestructible. I drove it into a tree once after taking my dog for a walk on a beach in KZN and the car didn’t seem to mind too much. The dog wasn’t thrilled, but we all lived to fight another day.
I eventually sold it to a friend who drove it for years and years, and who eventually sold it on with more than 350 000km on the clock and with nothing having gone wrong.
To me, the way Subarus are not exactly, overly designed, pretty cars is easily understood in the context of Fuji Heavy Industries. Function always seemed to trump form. They might not be pretty, you thought to yourself, but they’re so good to use it doesn’t matter. Same with the interiors – utterly bomb-proof and functional, not always the most intuitive to use, but so well made they seem to be hewn from granite. And that’s what you’d expect from a company called Fuji Heavy Industries, isn’t it?
When I look at what’s coming – especially the 197kW Levorg all-wheel-drive family tourer – I can’t help but get excited. That thing will go like a train, corner on rails, be epic on dirt and backroads and, of course, will be functionally immortal. It’s even survive my children. It’s not a particularly pretty-looking thing and the interior is classic Subaru. But that’s okay, because nothing will be engineered to drive quite like it.
So, I wish Subaru Corp all the best, I really do. I’m a fan. But I hope the change in name doesn’t mean a change in what Subaru delivers, because it’s something quite unique and precious, and “Fuji Heavy Industries” said it just perfectly.