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Subaru to swap rally Impreza for tarmac Liberty

Gone but not forgotten: Subaru's factory Impreza racer will no longer be seen in local rally events.

Subaru Australia turns its back on rallying but plans a factory-backed tarmac attack

14 Nov 2005

IN A move to revamp its corporate identity, Subaru Australia has turned its back on dirt rallying – a sport it has dominated in Australia for the past 10 years and which it has successfully leveraged to highlight core brand values such as all-wheel drive.

Although the Japanese brand will continue to compete in the World Rally Championship, Subaru Australia now intends to participate in tarmac motorsport events such as Targa Tasmania, which in the past week has emerged as a strong contender for Subaru’s first factory-backed tarmac foray.

Several privateers already compete in the event, however, next April’s road rally is expected to see a factory Subaru team enter with a Liberty GT "Tuned by STi".

GoAuto also understands the Mount Buller Sprint Hillclimb in late January is a contender.

Subaru Australia managing director, Nick Senior, told GoAuto that the increasingly diverse nature of customers, many of whom do not follow dirt rallying, prompted a rethink of its motorsport activities.

He said there had been no negative reaction over its decision, which had been brewing for 12 months, and that several reasons prompted the change.

"I guess from a business sense I think people understand what we’re doing," he said. "Certainly, the changing nature of the Subaru customer over the past 10 years, where we’re now selling a lot of $50,000 Liberty GT Spec B and STis, and these people are more interested in pursuing some other motorsport activities or interests."According to Subaru Australia, 13.2 per cent of owners – equating to almost half of all Libertys – were spending $50,000 or more on their cars and that this figure was growing.

The company believes these buyers were not necessarily lured to showrooms or connected with Subaru’s dirt rallying investment, which in turn forced a change of direction.

Mr Senior acknowledged that Subaru’s heritage was built on dirt rallying but denied a turn to tarmac events would make it "just" another car company.

All-wheel drive, a Subaru selling point, was just as relevant on tarmac, he said.

"In fact, there is great scope for us to make inroads into the customers’ perception with a performance advantage on tarmac," he said. "Next year is pretty much a toe-in-the-water exercise.

"Whether covertly or overtly, we will try a couple of different things. We will look at Targa Tasmania, we may look at Mt Buller, Targa West we may look at some track options."In terms of going forward, Mr Senior said Subaru’s sponsorships were not only about creating brand awareness but creating an experience for customers.

"The more customers we can involve, the better," he said.

Subaru’s decision to opt out of rallying comes after its Subaru Rally Team Australia (SRTA) secured its 10th consecutive Australian Rally Driver’s championship last month.

SRTA has also won eight of the past 10 manufacturers’ championships, including the last six in a row.

"A decision of this magnitude is not taken lightly but earlier this year we conducted a wide-ranging review of our strategic direction and that included our commitment to rallying," said Mr Senior.

Subaru had achieved everything it had set out to prove in rallying and established the credentials of its Impreza WRX and STi vehicles, he said.

"However, at the same time we must recognise our changing customer base," he said.

This year, Subaru will sell about 35,000 vehicles compared to 8500 in 1996 – the year it started rallying.

"We feel that there is considerable opportunity for STi Australia to substantially grow their business by understanding and then responding to the growing interest in club and state racing, targa events and the like."

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