Why I don’t think the Japanese “Get” the American Performance Market At All


Various media outlets have been reporting headlines along the lines of “Subaru Adds More Power to the STI!!!” But in reality, it’s just 5hp which changes absolutely nothing. It does, however, raise a larger issue I’ve had with Japanese automakers seeming to lack a basic understanding of the American market’s constant need for improvements.

Honestly, I say Subaru can go screw themselves until they make some real and meaningful improvements to the STI. They’re over a decade late on a real power bump for this car. My 04 STI was a Porsche 911 killer when it came out, and now an STI will lose to a V6 Camry on a highway pull. Even though the STI hasn’t changed much at all, somehow it’s nowhere near the same caliber of car it once was.

I don’t think the Japanese really understand the idea of growth in the performance market because they’ve made the exact same mistake with many other models over the years. They always seem to make a great product to start, but then they leave it the same for 10-15 years and finally kill it because it’s not selling and they wonder why…

Look at the NSX. Ferrari-killer in 1991, it didn’t evolve, and was eventually a $90,000 WTF option in 2005 when they finally killed it. The equivalent Ferrari had progressed to 500hp by then, and the NSX was still stuck at a measly 290hp.

Look at the S2000. A brilliant car for the niche sports car market, but it was basically the same in 09 as it was in 01. Over that 9 years, anyone who wanted one had gotten one. The market was exhausted because it needed a successor, not because it was undesirable. But we have yet to see an “S3000.”

Look at the GT86. Everyone was so stoked when it came out. Finally the beginning of a new Japanese sports car model range! But for Toyota and Subaru, it wasn’t just the beginning…. it was the entire complete thought. The car that we all saw as the base model of the range wound up being the only offering. There hasn’t been a high-performance model with a turbo or supercharger, despite a crystal clear demand from the market from the very beginning. Somehow that just didn’t make any sense to the decision makers at Toyota and Subaru. The only explanation is that they quite simply don’t “get it.”

Look at the Nissan Z, which has been effectively unchanged between 350 and 370 (just a lot of minor improvements, but the same overall). It’s been 16 years with the same ingredients and sales have been waning for a few years now. People still want the Nissan Z, but they want a new Z, one with the 400hp+ 3.0TT used in the Infiniti Q60 Red Sport so it can get with the times. We’ve been there, done that a long time ago with the VQ V6, and it was time for the next chapter back in 2015. Yet here we are in 2018, still waiting…

So here we are with the rally cars from Mitsubishi and Subaru.

Mitsubishi killed off the Evo, partially because of their idiotic new corporate direction, and partly because their unchanged, 7-year-old product kept getting more and more expensive without any justification at all. They’re dumb either way, and they killed off the only car that gave them any brand identity whatsoever.

Back to Subaru, I’m an STI owner of 11 years now. I got my 04 STI back when an M3, a Corvette, or a 911 had to be worried about me on the road. I still love my car, and I’ve modded it enough to make it the car it should be today in stock form. But as far as the new STI, I have no interest whatsoever because they haven’t upped the ante. Sure, it’s a nicer car interior wise, but whoever bought an STI because they wanted a nice interior? If you want luxury, you don’t buy a rally car… that was NEVER its draw. But obviously, to justify a $40k price tag the interior cannot be total shit anymore. I get that. However, the current STI is not the same caliber of car I bought back in 2006. It’s actually more the same relative level of a standard WRX back then. If I wanted a Subaru on the level of a 911 or an M3 in 2018, there is no option for me at this point. So no thanks.

Subaru needs to up the ante and the interest will return. And yes, people will be willing to pay for it. If they made a $55k STI with 400hp+ and the hardcore rally car experience we all crave I guarantee it would sell. I mean, people are willing to pay $70K for an Audi RS3 with a similar package, and you know the Subaru would be far better dynamically, especially if it still had a proper manual gearbox.

That may be a pipe dream at this point, but I’d be happy enough if they just upped it to a Focus RS rivaling 350hp. It still wouldn’t be the Porsche killer it once was, but it wouldn’t get embarrassed by a Camry.

Unfortunately, though, Japanese automakers have demonstrated time and time again that they just don’t seem to grasp what needs to be done here. And that’s a real shame because it isn’t all that hard to do. A species that does not evolve generally does not survive, and that is very much a law of nature in the automotive world.

-Nick Walker


3 thoughts on “Why I don’t think the Japanese “Get” the American Performance Market At All”

  1. Interesting perspective. Maybe they’ve made an intentional decision not to play in the high-performance market?


    1. I don’t think that’s the case. They are a horse with blinders on.

      The Japanese brands have this “we have their money, we’ll keep their money” philosophy on the ground when they put their cars on the market. That’s a good theory in mainstream but enthusiasts usually don’t play that game, because they expect better and better, and the Japanese marketers and product planners mistakenly assume that the same, slightly-warmed-over product can continue to be successful. It’s a pretty flawed logic.


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