With all of the recent excitement over Subaru and Toyota joining forces to create a lightweight rear-wheel-drive coupe, one important point has been overlooked. Subaru has spent years establishing its reputation as a manufacturer of competent, interesting all-wheel-drive vehicles ? thats right...all-wheel-drive.
We have all seen the ?symmetrical all-wheel-drive? marketing campaigns and had the benefits of this drivetrain drummed into us over the years, so where and how would a lightweight rear-wheel-drive performance car fit into the Subaru line-up? Would such a vehicle risk the niche that Subaru has worked so hard to create? Will it confuse the marketplace that Subaru has spent years and millions of dollars ?educating?? Just as importantly, how would Subaru fare going up against the Toyota juggernaut with essentially the same vehicle?
Despite Toyota owning 16.5 percent of Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru?s parent company), questions are being asked and it has been acknowledged that this dilemma is going to be an interesting one for Subaru?s marketing department.
"We may lose our longstanding territory, or we may lose the great niche brand image. The potential risk is there. We have to be very smart on marketing strategy. This issue has to be weighed against the short-term gain of a new, inexpensive model for enthusiasts and Subaru's continued growth, but the simple solution would be to nix the Subaru version altogether, allow Toyota to brand the new coupe as its own and rake in the cash provided by the partnership. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen, so the only thing Subaru can do now is make an attempt to differentiate its own version from Toyota's, while praying that consumers won't forget what "Makes a Subaru a Subaru," said Fuji Heavy Industries overseas sales chief, Mat Nagato
It would be nice to think that Subaru would differentiate itself with a premium turbo-charged AWD version using WRX or even STi running gear ? don?t laugh, the joint venture coupe is based on Subaru?s Impreza platform. This would leave Toyota with its 'true to the original recipe' modern-day version of the AE86. The reality is that Subaru will most likely position its version of the coupe more upmarket than Toyota's.
Our fantasies notwithstanding, a little muscle flexing by a shareholding giant like Toyota could see the Subaru that we know and love change quite rapidly.