Subaru is in the hunt for broader appeal as it looks to grow its market share beyond what Subaru design boss Osamu Namba describes as a "small and loyal crowd".
With the Impreza struggling for sales traction in this market, and mixed reaction (very) to the styling of the Liberty, it would seem a bit of "broader appeal" can't come soon enough.
Although the Forester is holding its own in the Compact SUV segment with a narrow lead over the Toyota Rav4 in June sales, the Impreza is well outside the top five sellers in the small car segment.
Faring better, the Liberty is neverthless sitting at a distant fifth spot behind the Camry, Accord Euro, Mazda6 and C-Class. Although its sales have increased 54.4 percent year-to-date, it is hardly setting the world on fire with 551 sales for June in a market buoyed by very strong private sales.
Speaking with press in Japan recently, Subaru design boss Osamu Namba, who joined the company in 2008, admitted the brand's current line-up is lacking a cohesive connection.
"We want to broaden the appeal to make it accessible to more than a small, loyal crowd. We need to add a more contemporary element," Namba said.
While the Liberty family tree has arguably followed an evolutionary design formula, notwithtanding reaction to its current iteration, the Impreza styling has flip-flopped through the past decade with desperate facelifts and platform turnarounds.
To many, styling has been Subaru's Achilles' heel - take the pre-facelift Tribeca's bizarre visage for example. The focus of the brand's energies would seem to have been on developing its boxer engines and all-wheel-drive platform.
According to Namba, one of Subaru's main problems in design is that its various models have stronger market recognition than the brand as a whole. To overcome this, Namba says he will push the company's "utilitarian spirit," while adding a more modern look.
As with the new Liberty, Namba wants to see a more pronounced front-end on each Subaru model, with more defined bumpers and a stronger accent or character line down the profile of the car - but not to the extent of some European brands. These Namba described as "too busy, with flourishes that perform no function."
"We have to show the function through design with simple, clean lines. I want a very simple design that exhibits strength," Namba said of the brand's future design direction.