Subaru, Random House, and Israel
"An image can always be more or less successfully synthesized, doctored, repaired, refurbished, and improved, quite apart from [though not entirely independent of] the spontaneous original of which the image is the public portrait." Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.
New in the Website
A few years ago, while working on The Da Vinci Nazi, I performed a quick search in the Hebrew media. Reinhard Mohn didn’t exist there, except for an obituary that appeared in Haaretz on October 5, 2009. The newspaper wanted from me roughly $3 for getting a copy; however, the article’s sales page included most of its 137 words. This was enough to see the tone was neutral. Israel—Haaretz is the informal Voice of the Shin Beth—didn’t seize the opportunity to throw mud on a former member of the SS turned into the world’s largest publisher. The online version of The Times published on October 9, 2009 an article named: “Reinhard Mohn: businessman who revived Bertelsmann,” basing it on the printed version. For most of it, the article read as much of the other material I found about the corporation and the man. Towards the end, there was a particularly significant text. “The revelations did Mohn and the company less damage than they might have done, partly because of his links with Israel and funding of German-Jewish dialogue through a charitable foundation, the Bertelsmann Stiftung, which he founded in the 1970s and endowed with majority ownership of the company in the 1990s.” In other words, Israel ignored his SS past in exchange for various services, like publishing hateful anti-Christian material. Moreover, Mohn’s publishing companies didn’t publish material criticizing Israel. Israel and Mohn thrived in mutual silence.
A country needs more than a publishing house...
Soon after the Six-Day War, a violent period known as the Attrition War begun. It was a guerrilla war, which became the prototype to the Intifadas. During this period, Israel changed rapidly. The basis for its actual road network was constructed; the industry expanded rapidly. After failing to create a car industry, Israel needed a source of vehicles in order to continue its growth. The Arab Boycott intensified after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, making it almost impossible for the country to buy cars.
The boycott was imposed with the establishment of the Arab League in 1945. Japan was its most strict follower due to its oil dependence. In 1968, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan—the three largest Japanese automobile manufacturers—were explicitly warned by boycott officials not to sell in Israel. Mitsubishi and Mazda dutifully followed their lead. In contrast to these industrial mastodons, back then, Subaru didn’t export cars. This situation created an overlap in interests between Subaru and Israel. In 1969, Subaru selected Israel as its first export market; soon afterwards, “Subaru” became a synonym for “car” in Hebrew. Even nowadays, this secondary player in the Japanese automobile industry accounts for a large percentage of the vehicles crowding Israeli roads. Only in the 1980s that other Japanese producers entered the Israeli market. Daihatsu in 1983, Suzuki in 1985, Mitsubishi in 1988, and the giant Toyota only in 1991.
On Image and Public Relations
As a minor player, Subaru favored the niche of quirky cars, cheap boxes aimed at the lowest segments of the market. This fitted the Israeli market well; both the state and the car company developed strong relations along the years. Yet, once the other Japanese companies penetrated the Israeli market, Subaru couldn’t expect to keep its strong position. At this point, in an act of gratitude, Subaru apparently got some image counselling and, for sure, help in its public relations.
Months after the introduction of Mitsubishi in Israel—which soon became highly popular—Subaru introduced the Legacy in 1989. It was its first departure from the quirky-cars industry; Subaru began looking upmarket. In 1993 came the Impreza and that sealed the change. Since then, the company’s image has been on the rise, and apparently in the coming years, it will be a main player in all upscale segments. Yet, none of its new models is essentially better than the models they are competing against. This is a formidable change, and includes implicit help from the outside. Simply, a company cannot manipulate its image and public appearance by itself; the result is invariably awkward and considered troubling and on the verge of fraudulent. Subaru got massive help from outside players in the publishing industry, which along the years has made an impossible transformation in Subaru’s image. This can be illustrated by an Indian carmaker named Tata. Despite thorough efforts of this huge company, it is as quirky as it was in the 1960s. Even its shiny Nano car, see picture below, failed to change its image. Simply, Tata doesn't have external help.
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