I went by to visit Apryl Hughes Stanfill in her office last week to talk about her group’s new Subaru dealership. As it happened, she was just back from leadership training in Indianapolis, and she was bubbling over with good things to say about Subaru. I would have thought she could teach Subaru a thing or two about automotive leadership, since she is president and CEO of Hughes Automotive Corporation, which, in addition to the new Subaru dealership here, owns Phil Hughes Honda and Athens BMW. While her father, the popular Phil Hughes, was alive, Apryl served as operations manager for the auto company, and when he died unexpectedly in 2012, she was prepared to assume the leadership of the company. The auto business is still a man’s world, though, and she said with a laugh that she was the only woman at the Subaru leadership conference.
The first question, considering that Subaru is such a good fit for Athens, is why did it take so long to get a dealership here? Apryl says it has been a combination of limited supply, which the expansion of the Indianapolis plant should ease, and Subaru’s caution about flooding the market. That, plus Subaru’s almost legendary reputation for quality, toughness and emission controls has created a high demand for the all-wheel-drive vehicles, she says.
Just back from training, Apryl extols the virtues of Subaru the corporation. “Zero waste,” she says. “Nothing goes to the landfill from the Indianapolis plant. They have figured out how to reuse everything that comes into the plant—even the styrofoam that parts are packaged in.”
She says that in 2009, when Subaru adopted its “Love” approach, the whole company completely changed and dedicated itself to being part of the human family and leaving the planet better. “It’s not a gimmick,” she says, and she rattles off facts about Subaru’s commitment to the environment, to health, to animal welfare and to education and local charities.
It took the Hughes corporation two years to complete the application process for becoming a Subaru dealership. “And then they told us that ours would be the first dealership application to be submitted online, so we had to do it all over again,” Apryl says, laughing.
She naturally stresses the importance of buying cars locally and the impact of automobile sales on the Clarke County tax base. “So many people just don’t understand how important that is,” she says. At the same time, she can’t help but be aware of the impending move of some dealers out to the Epps Bridge Centre development in Oconee County. The Hughes corporation has no plans to relocate, at present.
Will Athens BMW add a Mini Cooper dealership? Nope. Apryl thinks BMW’s electric cars will have more promise, though not yet. She realizes that the future of the automobile business will be some kinds of alternative fuel—electricity, hydrogen, something other than gasoline.
Hers is a changing business, but right now the big change is the opening of the new dealership and the welcome news that it’s no longer necessary to go to Atlanta to buy a Subaru and get it serviced. You can Google Subaru and read what the experts say about the Foresters and Outbacks and the other models. The late Brack Rowe once tried to hire me because he wanted somebody who could sell Chevrolets to the “pipe smokers,” Brack’s wry nickname for people who do their homework before coming in to buy a car. As many women as men buy Subarus, and they’re probably all non-smokers by now, but I think they’re probably the customers Brack had in mind.
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