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Norio Osakabe, Subaru Canada chief

Norio Osakabe is president, chairman and chief executive officer of Subaru Canada Inc., and a 30-year veteran of Subaru's parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries.

Vaughan: Subaru had a good thing going in the 1990s, when it was the first to make conventional cars with an sport-utility flavour by giving them four-wheel drive. Now, nearly every manufacturer is doing it. Which leads me to ask, what's so special about Subaru now?

Osakabe: What's always made us special: symmetrical all-wheel drive. For 30 years, Subaru has focused exclusively on this unique drive train configuration and it is the core of every Subaru's vehicle architecture. We believe it is the best all-wheel-drive system in the world, with outstanding traction, handling and balance, as well as the structural integrity that enables Subaru vehicles to achieve top scores in independent safety testing.

Unlike add-on systems that are just part-time traction aids for front- or rear-wheel drive vehicles, Subaru all-wheel drive distributes power to all four wheels in almost any driving condition. This reduces tire slip, especially on slippery or loose surfaces, improving responsiveness, safety and performance. It also makes every Subaru fun to drive.

Vaughan: General Motors owns a big chunk of Subaru and to me it looks like your relationship with them is a one-way street. GM just took your four-wheel-drive architecture and gave it to Saab (another GM company) for their new Saab 9-2X, which in Europe, people call the "Saabaru." What are you getting back from GM?

Osakabe: We're aware that it looks like a one-sided deal to outside observers, but an alliance with GM offers significant advantages to a smaller company like Subaru. It gives Subaru access to research and development resources -- fuel-cell development, for example -- that would otherwise be out of our reach. We use their worldwide purchasing program to reduce parts costs and keep prices down for our customers. These benefits are extremely advantageous, even if they're not immediately apparent to outside observers.

Vaughan: You're building a big new Canadian headquarters in Mississauga, Ont., but isn't it likely that you'll be swallowed up by GM some day? Maybe you should have built it in Oshawa, Ont.

Osakabe: Subaru operations are totally independent of GM. There would be no advantage to either company to have Subaru headquarters located in Oshawa. On the other hand, Subaru has made its corporate home in Mississauga for many years and has a strong relationship with the community. Our expanded new head office and new parts distribution centre represent our long-term commitment to Canada -- and to our friends and neighbours in Mississauga.

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