Subaru Makes CEO Change as Japan’s Carmakers Play Catch-Up on EVs

New CEO and president of Subaru Corp., Atsushi Osaki
New CEO and president of Subaru Corp., Atsushi Osaki. (Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg News)

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Subaru Corp. appointed Atsushi Osaki as CEO and president, following Toyota Motor Corp.’s decision to overhaul its top ranks, suggesting a greater urgency among Japanese carmakers to accelerate efforts to better compete in the electric vehicle era.

Osaki, 60, will succeed Tomomi Nakamura, who oversaw a period of strong sales growth in the U.S. and initiated the Japanese carmaker’s pivot to electrified vehicles. Toyota, which owns 20% of Subaru, announced plans in January for new CEO Koji Sato to take over from Akio Toyoda.

Subaru, known for its all-wheel-drive vehicles, is seen playing catch-up in the global automotive industry’s race to electrify. It hasn’t set forth plans to produce EVs in the U.S., where new federal legislation is offering hefty subsidies to domestically made EVs.

“To change leadership during a time of such uncertainty and change will be a challenge,” Osaki said March 3. “It’s precisely because the future is so uncertain that it’s important for the company to move forward with conviction.”

Osaki, who had served as executive vice president in charge of manufacturing, will take on his new duties from June, the company said in a statement March 3. Nakamura will become chairman.

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During Nakamura’s tenure, Subaru weathered pandemic restrictions, component shortages and persistent supply chain issues to make record-breaking gains in U.S. sales. Even so, the auto manufacturer has yet to establish a footprint in the growing market there for electric cars.

Subaru and Toyota Motor Corp. developed together and now sell different versions of essentially the same EV — the Subaru Solterra and the Toyota bZ4x.

Subaru won’t be making an EV plant in the U.S. anytime soon, Nakamura said in November, largely because it can’t afford to pay its employees as much McDonald’s Corp., which has a $20 to $25 minimum wage in some areas.

In November, Subaru raised its forecast for operating profit by 50% to 300 billion yen ($2.2 billion) for the fiscal year ending March 2023.

“The company has made great strides since I became CEO in 2018,” Nakamura said. “I knew I couldn’t pass the baton while the situation is unstable, but, having weathered the pandemic and avoided the worst case scenario, I believe I can do so.”

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