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Subaru seven-seater on the way

Blast from the past: Subaru has dabbled in seven-seaters before. In 2001 it showed the WX-01 “grand tourer” at the Tokyo motor show.

Subaru Australia hungers for a fifth model to complete its line-up

13 Nov 2003

SUBARU Australia wants to add a fifth model to its line-up within about four years to grow the brand beyond 32,000 sales a year.

The next new model is expected to be a seven-seat cross-over vehicle that will possibly be grafted from the Liberty platform, although the concept is not yet signed off.

A plan to build a similar sized vehicle, initially dubbed SGX, off a GM-sourced platform has been shelved.

The new vehicle is expected to be built at Subaru’s plant in Indiana, US, primarily for the American market but with export potential.

The vehicle under engineering evaluation at present will be 100 per cent Subaru and is expected to feature a flat-six engine and all-wheel drive.

It would have a 2-3-2 seating arrangement.

The vehicle would be part of Subaru’s international push to hike global sales from 550,000 units a year now to 750,000 a year within five years.

"It would be nice to have a fifth product," general manager for Subaru Australia Nick Senior said.

"We are looking at a larger product, a cross-over, a recreational seven-seater. I see us having five core models with variant spin-offs. For our size market, our dealer network (105 dealers Australia-wide) is perfect for five core models." In the US, the seven-seater will be launched in mid-2005 with pricing that will start where the Outback ends. If the same pattern is followed here, the cross-over will start around $55,000.

Mr Senior accepts there are gaping holes in the Subaru product line-up compared with other Japanese or European prestige or near-prestige brands, but remains positive.

"We concentrate on what we have, not on what we don’t have. We’re the glass half full car company," he said.

As such, Subaru Australia is in no rush to bring a six-cylinder Liberty model to the Australian market.

It will continue its push into premium territory with the new Liberty/Outback family.

The 180kW turbocharged flat-four powering the Liberty GT sedan and wagons is the key to securing buyers considering medium level European imports. Six-cylinder Liberty models are sold in some markets where turbo engines are not sold.

Mr Senior said four-cylinder European compact cars were no match for the turbocharged Libertys with their "dramatically improved driveability".

He said the turbo-engined four-cylinder cars developed their power and torque much lower down the rev range.

Subaru is also claiming bragging rights in the turbo market, saying it believes it sells more turbocharged petrol-engined vehicles in Australia than anyone else, largely thanks to its ever-popular Impreza WRX, which accounts for about 3500 sales a year "We will look at the six-cylinder Liberty further down the track, for people who specifically want a six," Mr Senior said.

Subaru is also developing a flat-six turbo-diesel engine primarily for Europe that should be on sale in about three years.

Subaru Australia would like the oil-burner for Outback as it would suit the needs of rural buyers.

A four-cylinder turbo-diesel version in Forester would also be welcomed.

Mr Senior is also peeved that the Outback model, which now boasts a range-topping 180kW 3.0-litre flat-six engine, continues to be classed by industry statistician VFACTS as a compact SUV, amid the tiddlers such as Daihatsu’s Terios, Suzuki’s Jimny and the Holden Cruze.

He said Outback should be classed as a medium SUV where it would line-up with its true rivals such as Toyota Prado.

That the Liberty languishes among "medium" cars while Honda’s Accord Euro is classed as "prestige" is also highly irksome.

"Our average transaction price is higher than Accord," Mr Senior said.

"The change (in VFACTS categorisation) can’t come soon enough."

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