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Subarota not for Oz

Not here: Subaru is set to stick with its all-wheel drive policy, meaning its version of the Toyota FT-86 is out.

AWD policy ends Australian hopes for Subaru version of Toyota rear-drive coupe

Subaru logo23 Oct 2009

By MARTON PETTENDY in TOKYO

SUBARU’S version of the upcoming compact rear-drive coupe from Toyota will not be sold Down Under because of the company’s all-wheel drive-only model policy in Australia.

Toyota used this week’s Tokyo motor show to unveil the concept version of its first rear-drive coupe since the MR2, which disappeared from Australian showrooms in 2006.

Co-developed with Subaru, 16.5 per cent of which is owned by Toyota, the four-seater FT-86 Concept is based on a Subaru platform and uses a variation of Subaru’s trademark four-cylinder boxer engine to drive its rear wheels.

But while the sleek Toyota two-door, better known as the ‘Toyobaru’, has been unofficially confirmed for production in 2011 and is almost certain to be sold here, Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior has indicated it is almost certain the ‘Subarota’ version won’t grace local showrooms.

“There are elements of that car (Subaru’s version of the FT-86) that do not fit with our Subaru DNA in Australia,” he said at the Tokyo motor show on Wednesday (October 21).

“Where I sit today it doesn't fit and it would be a very brave decision to take it, or a brave decision not to take it, depending on which way you look at it.

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“At the moment I would say we are unlikely to see it as a Subaru.” Mr Senior’s comments appear to disprove earlier speculation that Subaru might not produce its own version of the FT-86, or that it could be developed with a costlier all-wheel drive system.

“We at some time, if that car is to be a global car and my understanding is it will be a global car, will have to sit down and think about how it fits with the Subaru DNA in terms of all-wheel drive and some of the other elements of it and make a call,” he said.

“The obvious issue is it is rear-wheel drive and quite plainly no one is building an all-wheel-drive version at the moment so there is one key thing.

“We’ve have hung our hats on all-wheel drive for nearly 12 years now, so why would we step away from something that has been ultra-successful for us and given us the highest share of any major Subaru distributorship in the world?” Mr Senior previously suggested Subaru Australia’s AWD-only model policy would not exist forever due to the potential development of smaller, more fuel-efficient models.

But after talks with Subaru chiefs and previews of future Subaru models in Japan this week, he said it would exist for at least five years and would not be relaxed for the Subarota.

“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.

“But from what I know in the immediate future we will be an AWD car company.

“I’ve had a peek into the future over the last couple of months and even the last 24 hours and I’m just so excited about what we’re going to be rolling out over the next five years.

“If there’s a rear-wheel-drive car that we don’t get then so be it because we’ve got brand growth and we’ve got volume growth in the years ahead,” he said.

Mr Senior said the FT-86 was essentially Subaru technology wrapped in a Toyota skin, and that Subaru’s iteration of the jointly developed sports car was still some way off.

“It is a car that is an alliance in which Toyota have basically done the external bit and at the end of the day it’s a boxer engine. Where does the engine and a lot of the technical expertise come from – Subaru.

“That is very much a concept car that Toyota showed. It’s still some years away and we have not been involved in any great detail about the future of it.

“(But) We’ve got to have a look at the car when it finally is what is and we get the whole story behind it, because at the moment the whole story hasn’t behind told.

“The decision has not been made and doesn’t need to be made in the next period of time.” Subaru is expected to commence production of the Toyota coupe, which features a Toyota-designed interior and exterior, in Japan in 2011.

While it could end up looking very different to the FT-86 concept, it is not clear if Subaru’s version will come with all-new sheet-metal or simply revised front and rear ends.

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