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Subaru tries to sink the 9-2X Down Under

Stop right there: Subaru officials are confident a right-hand drive Saab 9-2X will never go on sale in Australia.

Subaru Australia fights against Saab's Impreza-based 9-2X being sold here

5 Nov 2003

SUBARU Australia will strongly oppose any attempt to sell the Impreza-based Saab 9-2X in Australia.

The company’s managing director Trevor Amery and general manager Nick Senior made their position clear to Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries while in Japan for the Tokyo motor show recently. They emerged confident that a right-hand drive 9-2X would never be sold in Australia.

"As far as I’m aware, FHI said the 9-2X is not for Australia. I’m pretty happy with what they said," Mr Senior told GoAuto this week.

Of course, the dispute may never actually get to the point where FHI has to try and veto a Saab plan to sell 9-2X in Australia. That’s because the right-hand drive business case has yet to be approved. A decision on that – apparently by no means a guaranteed green light as yet – is expected by the end of 2003.

The 9-2X is aimed at the US and providing struggling Saab with a much needed sales and revenue boost.

It will be available in two five-door all-wheel drive guises, with the entry level car powered by a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre boxer and the flagship Aero model to feature a 168kW 2.0-litre turbo. It will be produced by FHI in Japan from March, 2004.

Saab Automobile Australia would like to take both versions.

If not, it faces a new bodyshape drought until late 2005 when the Sport Hatch (9-3 wagon) is due on sale.

It would have to rely on the just launched 9-3 convertible to bolster volume, with the Aero version also due to be added in March. There is the possibility of other 9-3 and 9-5 sedan packaging and engine variants as well.

SAA could certainly use the 9-2X, with sales down nearly 300 year-on-year to the end of September. Only the relatively new 9-3 sedan is ahead of last year’s sales total, although the popular convertible has been in run-out.

The dispute has echoes of 2000 when Subaru Australia successfully fought off a Holden attempt to sell a rebadged version of the Forester compact off-roader here. In that case General Motors’ most senior management scotched the proposal because of the political delicacy of the situation, having just bought 20 per cent of FHI.

"We have gone down this path with Forester and GM. In response to the request (from Holden) to have a Forester (in Australia) we put up a good case that brand awareness of Subaru in Australia was incredibly different from other markets," Mr Senior said.

"By Subaru’s own studies, we have the highest levels of awareness perception, retention and just about all other things of the major Subaru markets around the world.

"That would be put at risk by product sharing.

"I can’t speak for Saab, but I have an inkling that a Saab customer has a clear perception of what a Saab is. Do they see a boxer engine and Subaru running gear in a Saab? I tend to think not. At the end of the day do you put at risk 2500 units a month against 150?" But GM does sell Chevrolet Foresters in India.

"If there are opportunities in markets where it (rebadging) doesn’t damage either brand, I think these opportunities could be explored," Mr Senior said.

"If Subaru is selling technology or running gear to Saab that allows us to re-invest in brand and product development, that’s okay.

"There are markets around the world where GM, Subaru or Saab are not represented, where it may be appropriate to use the strategy without damaging the brands.

"Some markets may be Southern Europe, Middle East, Africa, Central America, Asia and China.

"(Subaru in) Australia has the greatest market share outside Japan, and a loyal customer base with one of the strongest intensions to repurchase." The 9-2X is the first in what is expected to be a series of collaborative product efforts between Saab and Subaru, although in future they are more likely to be engineering co-operations rather than rebadging exercises.

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