The answer, according to Tim Mahoney, then marketing strategy and research manager, was to market an all-wheel-drive vehicle on the Subaru's Legacy station wagon chassis.
Mr. Mahoney and his cohorts, marketing director Mary Treisbach, who left last December, and Yoshi Ohara, VP-product planning, knew early that marketing would tout the benefits of four-wheel drive with the characteristics of a passenger car.
But it was consumer research that gave Subaru the niche words "sport utility wagon," says Mr. Mahoney, 39, who became marketing director earlier this year.
The Outback debuted as a 1996 model last fall. Australian actor Paul Hogan was a natural link to the name and appeared in a series of ads from Temerlin McClain, Dallas, showing off-road chases.
The ads, part of the $5.7 million spent on Outback last year, billed it as "the world's first sport utility wagon."
Outback's marketing plan also included grass-roots level activities, with more skiing, canoeing and biking event marketing and sponsorships, Mr. Mahoney says.
Outback's first month's stock sold out quickly and Subaru had to crank up production. During the last five months of 1995, just over 11,000 Outbacks were sold in the U.S.; nearly 8,900 were sold during the first quarter of '96.
"We couldn't make enough," says Mr. Mahoney, a 12-year Subaru vet. "And we still can't make enough."