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Subaru considers rear-drive ‘Subarota’ for Oz

Split personality: The rear-drive Toyota FT-86 concept uses Subaru underpinnings and is expected to appear as a Subaru model too.

Rules are meant to be broken as Subaru considers rear-drive exception to AWD policy

Subaru logo31 May 2010

By PHILIP LORD

SUBARU Australia has softened its hardline policy on all-wheel drive by announcing it will consider an upcoming two-wheel-drive sportscar for local release.

Managing director Nick Senior this week said the company would make an exception to the all-wheel drive rule for the Subaru version of the rear-drive sportscar the company is co-developing with Toyota.

Shown in concept form as the Toyota FT-86, the sportscar uses a Subaru platform and four-cylinder boxer engine, and effectively replaces the Celica in the Toyota range.

Mr Senior said the sportscar – called the ‘Subarota’ by the media in absence of any official name – could be a good fit for the brand in Australia, despite it being rear-wheel drive.

“One of the elements of the new sports car is that it is rear-wheel drive, so it is not a perfect fit with our all-wheel drive philosophy,” he said.

“Having said that, a rear-wheel drive car which involves the driver has probably got a slightly better fit than a front-wheel drive car with that strategy, All 4 The Driver.

2 center imageAll 4 The Driver is a Subaru marketing campaign begun last year with the ‘Crowd Rider’ advertisement, and it promotes the notion that Subaru builds accessible high technology into all its cars, not just the premium models, and also that dealers have accessible technology such as iPhone applications to show customers product features.

Mr Senior left the door open for such a move last October when he told GoAuto in Tokyo that local release of the upcoming sports car was not likely – but did not rule it out.

“It’s very hard to lock yourself in a box and say never (will a two-wheel drive Subaru be sold in Australia), because while I’m fairly comfortable with the next five to 10 years there may be a time when, heaven forbid, we don’t even produce AWD cars or there may be hybrids or something that do not fit, so never say never,” he said then.

“But from what I know in the immediate future we will be an AWD car company.” Mr Senior said this week that Subaru Australia would be in a position to make a decision on the car later in the year, when more was known.

“Our next exposure will probably be quarter three or quarter four, we’ll start getting more information then,” he said.

“We need to understand what’s the potential, what’s the price, what’s the spec.

“It’s a project more than any that has been clothed in a good deal of secrecy, so until we actually sit down and see what it is all about, it’s premature to make any further comment.” Subaru is 16.5 per cent Toyota-owned, and contributed a Subaru platform and a variation of its trademark four-cylinder boxer engine to drive the rear wheels to the four-seater FT-86 Concept program.

The new model effectively will replace the defunct Celica in the Toyota range, although Autocar this week reported insiders as saying the project had been delayed, with the launch formerly pencilled in for 2011 now pushed out to 2013 due to the current economic situation and Toyota wanting to see how well the Honda CR-Z performs in the market.

If the CR-Z is a success, a hybrid version of the FT-86 is also on the cards, because engineers have faced difficulty in getting the Subaru boxer engine to reach economy targets.

Reportedly, that has also pushed up the target starting price of the model, upon which Subaru had originally planned to base its own all-wheel drive version - beneath the brand's unique two-door bodyshell.

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