By Michael Strand
The Salina Journal
Forty years ago, Subarus were pretty rare, and so were Subaru dealers.
That was when Lawrence Warta opened a Subaru dealership at 2222 S. Ninth in Salina, just a month after the state's first dealership opened in Topeka.
Chuck Robb has worked as a salesman at that dealership -- now called Money Automotive Center -- for 35 years, and he recalls those early days.
"Most of them (the cars), 75 or 80 percent, had no air-conditioning, no cruise control and a manual transmission," he said. "And most people had never heard of them. Selling them was not an easy task, I can assure you.
"But they did get good gas mileage, and they were very reliable."
On Wednesday, owners Mike and Carolyn Money were recognized by Subaru of America for the dealership's 40 years in business -- and for being the second-oldest dealership in the country.
Representing Subaru of America was Jim Keebler, director of the company's Minneapolis Zone, who also recalled the early years of trying to sell the Japanese label in the United States.
"My entire career as a district sales manager was grinding cars down to dealers who were always saying, 'We already have enough!' " Keebler said.
"He used to call me and beg me to take some cars," Mike Money said.
Clamoring for more
That's changed in recent years, and now dealers are clamoring for more cars to replace the ones they're selling, Mike Money said.
Money said the company's plant in Indiana is running at full capacity of 170,000 vehicles a year; that factory is expanding, and another Subaru-owned plant that had been making cars for Toyota is being switched over to Subaru production.
Those two moves are essentially doubling the number of Subarus made in the United States in a year and a half, Keebler said.
Subaru sales in the United States have risen an average of 17 percent a year each of the past five years. The company sold about 212,000 in 2008, 424,000 in 2013, and the goal is 460,000 this year, though Money said he thinks 500,000 is likely.
"It's a great time to be a Subaru dealer," said Carolyn Money. "We can't get the cars, but that's a good problem to have."
New model a gamble
Deciding to become a dealer for a new brand is a gamble, Mike Money said.
"You're taking a chance," he said. "Subaru worked. We tried Suzuki, and it didn't pan out. Lots of dealers took chances on becoming Honda and Toyota dealers, too."
Keebler attributed the turnaround to several factors, such as an aggressive redesign of the company's models, starting with the Outback; the decision to give the cars full-time all-wheel drive; the "Love" ad campaign, with ads stressing the vehicle's longevity and reliability, and a decision to lower prices across the board.
Mike Money joined the dealership in February 1989 as a sales manager when it was owned by Kenneth and Shirley Jorgenson and was told if he stayed five years, he could start to buy an ownership stake.
Money's father owns a GM dealership in Hill City that's now in its 50th year.
"Dad offered me half of the dealership," Money said. "That would have been the easy way; I wanted to do it on my own."
(c)2014 The Salina Journal