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Subaru longs for baby

Needed: Subaru is looking to downsize to meet fleet fuel-efficiency targets.

Sub-Impreza light car is on the cards as Subaru responds to shifting global trend

11 Sep 2009

SUBARU has acknowledged that it must eventually produce or market a B-segment light car for the world market.

This is according to chief engineer Takeshi Tachimori, talking to GoAutoNews at the launch in Victoria of the fifth-generation Liberty and Outback series that he presided over.

The 30-year Subaru veteran said a sub-Impreza small car was essential if the brand was to increase its global market share as well as meet increasingly stringent pollution reduction targets.

“Subaru must shift its model line-up to smaller vehicles,” he said. “We have to have a lower average (carbon dioxide emissions) rating.”

In keeping with the company’s performance slant, the baby Subaru may evolve in the vein of a designer or premium sporty ‘supermini’ such as the Fiat 500 or Alfa Romeo’s MiTo.

An upmarket light car could justify the use of an AWD all-wheel drive system as per the company’s AWD mantra in markets such as North America and Australia, where the availability of B-segment vehicles over recent years have flourished.

2 center imageLeft: Subaru chief engineer Takeshi Tachimori.

Subaru management has long grappled with how much of the brand’s uniqueness – including horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ engines to go with AWD – is really necessary in a light car segment contender where efficiency and low weight are paramount.

However, the less glamourous but more likely scenario is for Subaru to leverage its relationship with Toyota and base a future light car on the next-generation Yaris, to compete against the likes of the Suzuki Swift and Ford Fiesta.

Toyota acquired an 8.7 per cent share in parent firm Fuji Heavy Industries in 2005, upping that to 16.7 per cent last year.

Currently the smallest vehicle Subaru sells in Australia and the United States is the C-segment Impreza, although it has long marketed other manufacturers’ light cars in Europe. Since 2007, the existing Daihatsu Sirion has traded as the Subaru Justy – among other guises – on the Continent.

In the mid 1980s, Subaru designed and built the first-generation Justy – including an optional AWD version – for itself, but from the 1994 the name has graced either the contemporary Suzuki Swift or the Ignis.

The Toyota tie-up also sees the bB light car – a boxy rebodied version of the Yaris – sold in Japan as the Dex, while a duo of the almost micro-car proportioned ‘Kei’ models – the R1 and R2 – duck underneath that in the domestic home market.

A Kei car must not exceed 3.4 metres long, 1.48m wide, and 2m high while capping engine size and power output of 660cc and 47kW respectively, but these restrictions are only really suited to Japan’s particular road tax regime.

“In the past using the Daihatsu OEM (original equipment manufacturer) Kei cars saw profits invested in Subaru’s own vehicles,” Mr Tachimori stated.

“We are now discussing with Toyota (about) an all-in-one project with the Vitz (Yaris).

“Subaru realises there is room between the Kei and Impreza.”

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