Subaru’s future plans include hybrid and full-electric powertrains, but not until after the company is able to clear the plate it is currently chewing through.
The company is aiming to increase sales in the U.S., which is its largest single market with all-new versions of the Legacy and Outback mid-size models. Combined, the two nameplates account for almost 38 percent of its U.S. sales. The fourth generation Outback arrived for the 2010 model year as a larger vehicle focused on appealing to U.S. customers and sales roughly doubled as a result.
Subaru is currently working on expanding its Lafayette, Ind. plant capacity to a total of 200,000 units by the end of 2016. The $400 million project was announced in May, 2013 and will add 900 jobs in the state. The Japanese company’s first priority is expanding on its current products, Outback senior project general manager Masayuki Uchida said.
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But once that portion of the company’s plan is complete, it will focus on the next phase: expanding its lineup of hybrid vehicles and developing an electric car. It won’t be the first time fielding either of those powertrains. In 2006, Subaru sold an electric Kei car and the company currently sells a hybrid version of its XV Crosstrek here.
Trouble is, Subaru is small and engineering resources are scarce, so developing new products is especially arduous. Uchida pointed to the company’s latest EyeSight safety system as an example. Even projects like that, he said, can be demanding enough on Subaru’s engineering team to put other projects put on hold. The latest version of EyeSight, a safety system lauded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, debuts on the 2015 Outback this year.
Uchida declined to reveal which models are on deck for hybridization, but said that they will need to fall on the smaller end of Subaru’s stable. Subaru is leaning on fuel efficiency as a key selling point for its newest vehicles, of which most are offered with a continuously-variable transmission. The exceptions to that are the BRZ rear-wheel drive sports car and the WRX STI.
Rumors of the company planning a plug-in hybrid spiritual successor to the SVX sports car emerged last month and Uchida declined to verify them, but said that if the company were to build such a vehicle, it wouldn’t be until after it markets more mainstream hybrid and electric models.
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