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No baby on board Subaru

Small as we'll go: Subaru Australia will not sell a sub-Impreza sized car in Australia any time soon, according to local managing director Nick Senior.

Product rollout will continue but don’t expect a Subaru light car here any time soon

27 Jan 2012

SUBARU will complete a range overhaul that will include the release of at least three - and up to five - all-new models including a hybrid over the next five years, but has indicated that no pure-Subaru B-segment small car is in the pipeline for the foreseeable future.

This is despite the company having six decades of experience producing generations of Japanese ‘Kei’ city vehicles, as well as heading engineering projects for a number of Toyotas, including the Yaris-sized Ractis/Verso-S.

The latter is sold in some parts of the world wearing the famous Pleiades badge, and is said to have been completely designed and developed for Toyota by Subaru.

Nevertheless, Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior has reiterated that he has no interest taking on the light-car segment in this country.

“Most of the (sub-Impreza) models are either badge-engineered Toyotas or Daihatsus. We don’t want to play in that space – it’s messy, it’s ugly and there’s not a lot of sales support,” he said.

Production of the last all-Subaru Kei car – the Sambar commercial vehicle – ends soon in Japan as parent company Fuji Heavy Industries concentrates on using its engineering and production resources to build larger or more specialised models like the Subaru-Toyota joint-venture BRZ/86 sports car that takes shape on the Sambar production line. Daihatsu will supply all future Subaru Kei cars.

2 center imageFrom top: Subaru Sambar, XV, BRZ, Exiga and Hybrid Tourer concept.

According to one Subaru spokesman, the demise of the Sambar – first released in 1961 and the longest running nameplate in the firm’s 58-year history – is causing some internal concern at Subaru, of which Toyota owns about 16 per cent.

“This is the source of much discussion,” a Subaru spokesman said. “Many people in Japan believe it is important to have a true Subaru small car below the Impreza.”

So established is Subaru in the Kei segment that the end of the Sambar has sparked a run on the last batch of vehicles in Japan from loyal owners.

“It is very sad after all this time,” he said. “Many older buyers are ordering the last of the batch.”

But it isn’t only the smallest models that are facing the chop in Subaru’s line-up.

As we have reported previously, while the company has not yet announced a replacement for the slow-selling Tribeca seven-seater SUV, it is a strong likelihood that any future iteration will probably be a lightly disguised next-generation Toyota Kluger.

Another model facing extinction soon is the Exiga people-mover launched in Australia in late 2009.

Instead, in a statement FHI released last year called its ‘Fiscal Year 2012 to FY2016 Mid-Term Plan’, Subaru will “…build on its expertise in safety technology and driving performance while constantly addressing environmental issues in order to offer environmentally friendly solutions.”

Along with the fourth-generation Impreza out next month and the just-launched XV crossover sibling, these will include the Mk4 Forester out early next year, followed by the far-less American-esque, sixth-generation Liberty/Outback mid-size model ranges in 2014.

The latter are expected to adopt more than a little of the styling elements of the 2011 Tokyo motor show-starring Advanced Tourer Concept. One Subaru insider also suggested that a smaller wagon to slot between the Impreza and Liberty is under consideration for the European market.

Subaru also has a dedicated hybrid model coming, as well as a possible BRZ spinoff in the works beyond the widely speculated turbocharged version, though if or when that materialises is still anybody’s guess after the original model’s long gestation period.

The product overhaul is essential as the Japanese brand struggles to stay relevant in the face of relentless global growth from established brands like Volkswagen, Hyundai and Kia, as well as the new threat from China.

Subaru’s MY2006 mission statement will strive for a 40 per cent volume increase worldwide - up from less than 600,000 units in 2011 to 900,000 sales, including 380,000 in North America, 180,000 in China, 160,000 in Japan, 60,000 in Europe, 50,000 in Australia and 70,000 in other regions.

As a result of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last year, sales in Australia fell from a record 40,000 units in 2010 to 34,000 units in 2011, although a full recovery is expected for 2012 thanks to the all-new XV, new Impreza, facelifted Liberty/Outback and special-edition Forester III runout campaigns to be mounted later in the second half of the year.

“Subaru needs to change to survive, the Subaru spokesman said. “Now that Saab is gone, we are the smallest global automotive brand in the world. We have to be very careful.”

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