Subaru Pietermaritzburg, built on giving better service

The 2020 Sani2C has been postponed to December, when Subaru Pietermaritzburg will again provide logistic support for the mountain bike race known for its “gees” and the funds it raises for the 13 communities between Sani Pass and Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

Subaru Pietermaritzburg- Thami Buthelezi

The 2020 Sani2C has been postponed to December, when Subaru Pietermaritzburg will again provide logistic support for the mountain bike race known for its “gees” and the funds it raises for the 13 communities between Sani Pass and Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

Subaru became involved with Sani2C thanks to the vision of Howard Christie, these days MD of the family-owned business, Subaru Pietermaritzburg. Christie cut his teeth at Mazda, where he was national dealer of the year on three occasions. Now boasting 45 years in the car trade, Christie says the success of his dealership has been built on giving better service than anyone else.

He practises what he preaches and still personally collects cars from clients despite now being the “umphathi umkhulu” (big boss). “I used to know all our customers by name, but we have grown a bit beyond that now,” he says.

Christie was the first to see the natural fit between mountain bikers and the Subaru brand and initiated the title sponsorship of the Sani2C. In 1990, when entries were very limited, he leveraged the race’s popularity by offering a Sani2C entry with every Subaru sold. When new bosses at head office developed other priorities, he continued the sponsorship at regional level, providing over 20 vehicles to the event for the past 15 years.

The last few Sani2C races attracted some 4 600 riders, and Christie’s decision to continue backing this event has given his dealership a loyal following among people who often drive on gravel roads — from farmers’ wives to downhill racers.

This loyalty helped his business weather the lockdown storm. “We are battling to sell new vehicles, but still cannot get enough used vehicles to sell,” he says. He says he is always looking for good used Scoobies. One such, an Outback bought as salvage, has been turned into one of only three single-cab Subaru bakkies in the world. The late “Oom Thys” van der Merwe at Spot On Panelbeaters welded a Legacy’s roof and a Corsa bakkie bin to the Outback’s chassis.

“We could have sold thousands of these, I get that many queries,” said Christie of his marketing tool and delivery vehicle. “When the Japanese visited here and saw it for the first time, their eyes all but popped out of their heads.”

That eye-popping moment may just have led to Subaru’s plans to reintroduce a new Baja double cab to the US by 2021. The first generation Bajas sold in the States from 2003 to 2006 and was also built on an Outback chassis. The Baja soon attracted a cult following and won numerous awards, including Consumer Reports’ highest score for reliability in the “pickup truck” category in 2006. Used Subaru Bajas are today as rare in the US as Christie’s single-cab Scoobies are in SA.

As for his possible role in inspiring the Baja’s return with his “Made-in-Maritzburg” single cab Scoobie, Christie just smiles. “With a Subaru, anything is possible,” he says.

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