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Subaru focusing on style

Viziv of the future: Subaru is targeting a more style-driven customer with design sneaking up to number three on the list of company's priorities.

Safety and performance still key, but design now more important than ever for Subaru

30 Oct 2015


SUBARU is pursuing a more style-conscious audience with a range of vehicles that have a more recognisable family resemblance, while maintaining the tough go-anywhere functionality that has won it recognition.

The Japanese car-maker's most recent models have adopted an emboldened, angular look which has been warmly received around the world, and the company says its upcoming models will continue the evolution.

Until now, Subaru has used invisible technical features to establish its position in the global market, such as its permanent four-wheel drive system and range of horizontally opposed engines, but the company is now bolstering its visual appeal with an emerging design language.

Speaking at the Tokyo motor show, Subaru design department general manager Mamoru Ishii explained that the company was largely regarded as a purveyor of well-engineered cars and not necessarily pleasant-looking vehicles, but a new strategy is set to change that perception.

“Subaru is regarded as an engineering company, not for design, and the customer wants to get a Subaru car because of the all-wheel drive and low-centre of gravity, and not only design, but now the company situation is that design is more important,” he said.

While Subaru has laid the foundation for a strong global following with its all-terrain vehicles, Mr Ishii said it now had to reinforce the brand with a family resemblance.

“Two years ago I was promoted to general manager, and I started to build a design strategy. The key words were dynamic and solid and this concept was put into the new cars and the facelift cars. This was a big change for the design direction.

“It used to be the case with our design team where a Legacy is a Legacy and a Liberty is a Liberty and they were in individual directions. All these different styles cannot build a brand.”

The new design direction was embarked upon following Mr Ishii's appointment in 2013 to oversee the design department, as well as a new “2020 company strategy” initiated by Subaru president Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, which involved laying out the company priorities as a list of “six elements,” he said.

“Number one is safety, next is total performance but the third most important is design. I was surprised.”

Underneath the top three elements, the 2020 strategy puts the environment in fourth place, communication in fifth and quality as the sixth most important attribute in future Subaru vehicles.

But despite the new design direction, Mr Ishii said the Subaru mantra of all-paw traction and toughness was still a critical element, and it would not neglect its existing loyal customer base.

“Function is sill very important and our base. A non-functional car is not a Subaru,” he said.

“The priority of the exterior and interior design is higher when compared with the past. We will keep our basic values, such as function and road capability.”

Subaru's full-time all-wheel-drive system gives the range of SUVs and sedans added grip in adverse conditions but, like many four-wheel drive systems, is known to increase fuel consumption.

When asked if the car-maker was exploring more efficient two-wheel-drive systems, Subaru president Yasuyuki Yoshinaga told GoAuto the company would stick with AWD for now but said “we have a lot of options.”

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