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Subaru Australia goes hybrid while diesel stalls

Mild child: The mild-hybrid Forester combines a 107kW 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer petrol engine with an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack.

Two mild-hybrid Subaru models in Australia by early 2020, but diesel future unclear

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Subaru logo3 Jul 2018

By JUSTIN HILLIARD in JAPAN

SUBARU Australia has confirmed it will launch its first two electrified models by 2021 with mild-hybrid versions of the mid-size Forester and small XV SUVs, while diesel engines look likely to be completely phased out.
 
Speaking to GoAuto last week at the fifth-generation Forester international media launch at the Cycle Sports Centre in Shizuoka, Japan, Subaru Australia managing director Colin Christie revealed that mild-hybrids should be heading Down Under soon.
 
“Nothing’s been confirmed yet – in terms of timing – but we’re pretty confident we’ll be able to get one into the Australian market before the end of next year,” he said.
 
“Not sure which one yet, because there’s an XV hybrid and a Forester hybrid running around at the moment.
 
“And then we’re looking to get the (other model) – and I expect it will be an XV and a Forester or a Forester and an XV, whichever one goes (first) – hopefully not long after (the initial one, in) early 2020. So, two hybrids within a couple of years’ time, which will be good.”
 
Mr Christie indicated that Subaru Australia is yet to decide if it will offer the mild-hybrids as an alternative powertrain option across the existing Forester and/or XV grades, or just position them as standalone variants, although he doubted the former was likely.
 
Exact details on the mild-hybrid Forester are currently scant, but it does combine a 107kW 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer petrol engine with an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack that is recharged via regenerative braking.
 
Like other mild-hybrids, this set-up, dubbed e-Boxer, provides an electric boost at lower speeds, helping to improve performance by filling in gaps in the output delivery, while its coasting function switches off the engine to save fuel at certain speeds.
 
While a plug-in hybrid version of the XV is already sold in the United States, Mr Christie was unsure if such a powertrain option would ever be offered in Australia due to the expected introduction of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs).
 
“At this stage, (we’re) not sure. First plan is to get (the mild-hybrids) introduced and see how they go. The thing we’re working through now is when do the first fully electric vehicles come in,” he said.
 
“Subaru’s been talking about globally 2021 they’ll have their first version of one, so that’s 2020/2021 timing (for Australia), and if we’re getting something around that timeframe, we might actually move straight from hybrid to electric.”
 
These BEVs will be based on the Subaru Global Platform (SGP) that currently underpins the Impreza, XV and Forester, and supports alternative powertrains, such as hybrids. SGP is expected to remain active until at least 2025.
 
When questioned if existing models, such as the Forester, would be reengineered with the new powertrain option instead of creating an all-new BEV line-up, Mr Christie explained he was unaware of what the plans were.
 
However, several obstacles need to be overcome before the mass adoption of EVs starts to occur, including incentives and infrastructure, according to Mr Christie.
 
“There’s a number of challenges around the EV marketplace in terms of government incentivisation for it, the ability to bring cars to market in a timely matter (and) there’s still a question around public demand for EVs, (as well as) a lot of infrastructure questions that need to be answered,” he said.
 
“But, I certainly see EVs are an absolute part of the future and will continue to grow and grow … as the technology gets better and better, range improves, the environmental benefits improve, you’d have to think it’s going move for that way.
 
“The only thing I’d say is if you look at petrol engines (and) where they were 15, 20 years ago, the efficiencies and improvements that we’ve seen in those products has been dramatic. So, I think you’ll continue to see improvements in combustion engines.
 
“But, ultimately I think electric vehicles will be a large part of any market. The question is really around timing and what needs to be put in place before they can really move forward.”
 
Mr Christie added that he was open to Subaru Australia joining the Electric Vehicle Council in the future after it had dialogue with the advocacy body in the past.
 
Meanwhile, Mr Christie was coy about the prospect of diesel engines remaining a fixture in Subaru Australia’s model line-up after they were phased out in the new Forester’s range.
 
“We’ve still got Outback running with diesel – and that car’s got another two to three years before it gets its next model,” he said.
 
“I don’t know (if it will continue) is the answer. What I would say is definitely the focus moving forward is much more on hybridisation and electric vehicles. The (Subaru) Global Platform has been designed for those technologies moving forward.
 
“And I think at the moment if you look around, especially at Europe – which was a predominate diesel market – and the challenges they’re facing now, (the momentum is heading that way).
 
“So, I don’t know if it’s the end or not, but the reality is more and more we’ll be progressing into hybrids and electric vehicles.”
 
When questioned if the stricter Euro 6 and WLTP emissions and fuel efficiency standards about to be introduced in Europe will have an impact on what Subaru Australia can offer locally, such as what happened with Volkswagen Group Australia, Mr Christie indicated they could.
 
“Yeah, I think it potentially will. I think there’s going to be a lot of changes to regulation over the next few years (and fuel emissions), and that sort of stuff will determine what technologies will come to market,” he said.

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