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WRX set to go auto with A-Line STi

Carbon trading: Subaru's light-weight Impreza WRX STi Carbon is unlikely for Australia, but an auto WRX is finally on the cards.

Subaru Australia to offer automatic STi, but not Carbon or Exiga versions

Subaru logo23 Oct 2009

By MARTON PETTENDY

SUBARU Australia will offer an automatic version of its Impreza WRX STi hot hatch for the first time, after a slump in demand for manual models across the board.

However, while five-speed auto-only WRX STi A-Line is therefore odds-on to be sold here, the STi ‘Carbon’ and Exiga ‘2.0GT tuned by STi’ models revealed at this week’s Tokyo motor show are unlikely to appear in local Subaru showrooms.

Based on the Impreza STi A-Line auto, which has been a smash-hit in Japan since launching there earlier this year, the STi Carbon features a suede fabric interior and carbon-fibre roof that is claimed to significantly reduce weight.

Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior told GoAuto at the Tokyo show that while the Carbon would likely be a Japan-only model, the A-Line was high on the Australian hit list.

“I don’t think it’s (Carbon) going to sell us a lot more STis, to be honest,” he said. “That market is a really tough segment at the moment. It’s been the one most impacted … in the last 12 months. That market has gone from being predominantly manual to predominantly automatic.

“I think there are other areas we can look at to boost STi sales. We don’t have an automatic so we’re impacted by that, whereas the (Volkswagen Golf) R32 and the (Mitsubishi Lancer) Evo have either automatic or DSG-type gearboxes.

2 center imageFrom top: Subaru Hybrid Tourer Concept, Subaru Exiga 2.0GT STi, Subaru Impreza WRX STi Carbon.



“The A-Line has an automatic and we’re having a chat to them about whether it’s possible for the Australian market.

“Those discussions are progressing well and hopefully we may get some resolution out of that.

“The A-Line has been very successful since it launched here earlier in the year and is now the top-seller in the STi range. We’re excited about it, because our whole range has seen a significant swing towards automatic.” Mr Senior said the addition of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the new Liberty range had attracted a 75 per cent take-up rate – far above Subaru’s forecast 60 per cent sales split.

Similarly, the STi version of Subaru’s new Exiga people-mover, which goes on sale in Australia in November, also made its debut at Tokyo this week but is unlikely to reach Australian shores.

“There are other things that we would look at first,” said Mr Senior. “The whole STi brand we would like (to be) more complete STi models rather than ‘tuned by STi’ in the future.

“Exiga is not even launched yet (in Australia), so it’s (the STi version) certainly something not on our agendas at the moment.” While Australia’s version of the Exiga will feature six rather than seven seats, the Exiga 2.0GT tuned by STi will go on sale in Japan soon, featuring an all-black interior, sports-tuned chassis and turbocharged 2.0-litre boxer engine.

One technology featured by the STi-tuned Exiga that will come to Australia is the company’s new ‘EyeSight Plus’ preventative safety system.

Subaru will test the system in Australia later this year and hopes to offer it as standard in premium versions of the Liberty and Outback within two years.

“EyeSight technology will help avoid collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians. The number of deaths recorded in Australia due to fatigue make it a highly attractive technology here," said Mr Senior.

"We'll be testing it in Australia later this year. I'd love to make it standard across the range, but realistically it will only be for top-end Liberty and Outback models and maybe optional in the Impreza at a realistic price." The upgraded Plus collision avoidance package adds three-dimensional imagery, road-to-vehicle communication technology and blind-spot warning to the previous EyeSight system, which features technologies like stereo camera-based lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

Mr Senior confirmed Subaru’s gullwinged Hybrid Tourer Concept, which made its global premiere at Tokyo, was nothing more than a show car.

He said elements such as its 2.0-litre direct-injection boxer petrol engine and two-motor all-wheel drive hybrid system with lithium-ion battery pack would eventually enter production – but possibly not for Australia.

“It (the Hybrid Tourer Concept) is a concept car and that’s what describes it best,” he said. “I can absolutely say it is not an SVX (successor).

“As with all concept cars there are (styling) cues … but certainly there’s going to be nothing that in five years time that is going to look 99 per cent like that.

“There are elements there … they’re doing a lot of work on hybrid and direct-injection. Homogeneous direct-injection is probably still 10 years away and there’s still a lot of work to be made on engines with direct-injection.” Subaru committed to offering its first hybrid model in Japan by 2012, but Mr Senior said no such schedule existed for the Australian market.

“We’ll be speaking to them about some of their plans for the future, but we won’t be (releasing a hybrid in Australia) in 2012. It will come some time, but I haven’t got a chart here that says 2010, 2011, 2012 or 2013 hybrid,” he said.

Fresh from meeting with senior Fuji Heavy Industries executives in Japan, where he viewed and discussed a number of new future model derivatives, Mr Senior said CVT transmissions were just the start of a range of new technologies to emerge from Subaru, which would also offer a number of new model additions in the near future.

But the local Subaru boss indicated its flagship Tribeca SUV, which has attracted an average of just over 100 monthly sales in Australia this year but found only 30 buyers in September, may not continue beyond the current generation.

“Tribeca will (still) be around in a couple of years,” he said. “There are still upsides with Tribeca for us. In some eyes it’s the most fit-for-purpose vehicle in its segment.

“I love it and want it to continue. The US does 500 a month, but we need to do more. Longer term the decision has not been made on a second-generation Tribeca.”

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