By on January 3, 2011

Toyota, possibly more than any other automaker, epitomizes a major tradeoff inherent in mass-market success: mechanical and stylistic homogeneity. Subaru, on the other hand, traditionally occupies the other end of the spectrum, slinging mechanically unique but ultimately niche-oriented products. Since Toyota took a 16.5 percent stake in Subaru’s parent company Fuji Heavy Industries, observers have wondered how the relationship between two so different automakers would play out. And since Subaru had already cultivated a fiercely loyal following with its dedication to niche values, the outcome has largely been that Subaru fans have decried the perceived “Toyotafication” of Subaru. And now, if a new rumor from Motor Trend is anything to go by, the uproar is about to get a little bit louder.

Luckily for the fans,  MT claims that closer cooperation between Subaru and Toyota will center around Subaru’s least-Subaru-like vehicle: the infamous Tribeca.

Toyota is studying how to more closely converge its products with Subaru, and might share its next-generation Highlander midsize crossover platform with the Tribeca. The two have similar dimensions, notes a source familiar with the tie-in.

As always with Subaru, the sticking point is how to share a platform that would use a longitudinally mounted boxer engine, in the case of the Tribeca, with a transverse-mounted engine, as in the Highlander. The platform also will have to accommodate a hybrid version of the Highlander, and it’s a good bet the system would be adapted to the pancake-engine Tribeca.

Of course Subaru’s use of boxer engines, a layout shared only by Porsche, catches MT’s attention, but there are more problem than just changing engines between Toyota and Subaru. The Subaru Legacy platform on which the Tribeca is based was designed from the ground-up as an all-wheel-drive platform, whereas the Highlander and Lexus RX are built on an AWD-capable modified Camry chassis. I’ll leave a reckoning of all the different challenges of aligning these two products to the Best and Brightest, but the following images of the Tribeca/Legacy chassis and a cutaway of a Lexus RX450h show just how different these two vehicles are (dimensions notwithstanding).

The solution to a similar problem might be instructive in this case: the “Toyobaru” sports coupe (aka FT-86, aka O86A) was developed on a Subaru platform, meaning Toyota’s version had the Subie-unique flat four. After all, fans complain more about a brand losing an element of its identity than sharing it with another automaker. And, as MT points out, Subaru has its own way of differentiating the Subaru-badged version of its jointly-developed sportscar.

Toyota tackles the problem with the upcoming FT-86 rear-wheel-drive sports coupe by going with a Subaru pancake engine — the STI’s 305-horsepower, 290 pound-foot version of the 2.5-liter turbo four, our source says… Subaru’s version of the 086A, as the project is known, is still scheduled for 2013 model year introduction and will likely be sold with all-wheel drive only, as part of its differentiation from the Toyota.

Since the RWD chassis derives from Subaru’s AWD system, Toyota’s version of the O86A will have less power and rear-drive, while Subaru simply adds a larger engine and keeps the front half-shafts from its original design. Bam, differentiation. But with a Tribeca/Highlander mash-up, the options aren’t as good. As a mass-market automaker, Toyota needs a volume nameplate like Highlander to get better mileage than a boxer-powered, full-time AWD (aka, Tribeca-based) model can achieve. A front-drive, boxer-powered workaround would be hard enough… adapting hybrid synergy drive to Subaru’s platform would be harder still.

MT’s conclusion that a jointly-developed Tribeca/Highlander would be “adapted to the pancake-engine Tribeca,” therefore, doesn’t add up especially well. In fact, it’s far more likely that Subaru will simply sell a full-time AWD adaptation of a transverse-mount, inline-engined Toyota chassis. After all, only hardcore Subaru fans will notice that the Tribeca no longer sports a boxer engine, and they’ve never been huge fans of the Tribeca (then again, is anyone?). Besides, those same Subaru fans have been the ones complaining while Subaru rides its “Toyotafication” to major sales success last year. Though Subaru would risk the soul of its brand on some level by abandoning its commitment to AWD and boxer engines in every model, if it wants to cooperate with Toyota on midsized crossovers, it will probably have to. And, like it or not, the Tribeca is the most logical vehicle to do it on.

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44 Comments on “Toyota And Subaru Move To “Converge Products”...”


  • avatar
    carguy

    While its always sad when all the individuality in a brand is drained from it via a corporate stakeholder, this has been coming for while. Subaru management have been AWOL in charting a direction for its products which seem to have adopted increasingly bland styling while lacking essential technology such as decent auto gearboxes. I hope the Toyotification of Subaru won’t mean the end of iconic traits, such as horizontally opposed boxer engines, but there are a number of areas where more Toyota and less wacky Subaru may actually be a good thing.

  • avatar
    jmo

    The risk is that Toyota will go the way of GM and end up selling the same, barely differentiated small CUV, as a Scion, Toyota, Subaru and Lexus.  

    If they just limited it to Subaru adopting Toyota’s more sophisticated automatic transmissions, then they might be on to something.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      All of Toyota’s ATs that would go in something like a Tribeca are transversely mounted, FWD biased.  The 4Runner, Tacoma, Tundra, and Sequoia RWD biased ATs are not “symmetric”.  Same goes for all the Lexus sedan ATs that are AWD capable.  I don’t think that the H6 will fit transversely mounted.

    • 0 avatar
      The Walking Eye

      That is what I worry about.
       
      As long as Subarus stay AWD and engineered by non-Toyota personnel, then updating styling and packaging to gain more buyers is a plus in my eyes.  What makes Subaru most unique is the AWD system.  The boxers aren’t a deal breaker for me as any good engine is just fine by me, however I really do like that burble my Impreza makes.  :)

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      The burble is almost gone. The sound comes from the unequal length header, and the only current product still using that is the 2.5 WRX and STI models. All NA motors, Legacy turbo, and all JDM 2.0 turbo are using equal length now…no more “Subie Rumble”

  • avatar
    carve

    Sounds like they’re not wasting any time repeating GM’s mistakes.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    I’ve heard this dance music before; and this sounds a lot like badge engineering across automakers.  I can’t think of a single example where this has ended well for either party.

    Isuzu Passport –> Honda Passport
    Toyota Corolla –> Geo Prism
    Toyota Matrix –> Pontiac Vibe
    Subuaru WRX –> Saab 9-2
    Mitsubishi 3000 –> Dodge Stealth
    Mitsubishi Eclipse –> Eagle Talon
    Isuzu pickup –> Chevrolet Luv (bwhahahahahaha!)
    Chevrolet Trailblazer –> Isuzu Ascender
    Chrysler Town & Country –> VW Routan

    You can’t take a car company like Subaru, that is the quirky Ben & Jerry’s of the auto industry, and expect to mix Cherry Garcia with artificially flavored mass produced vanilla frozen mash from the Conglomo Chemical and Frozen Foods Corporation, and expect it to be a sales success.

    I had really hoped that Subbie would benefit with better reliability in this marriage and Toyota would benefit from AWD technology.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t forget Mitsubishi Raider and Suzuki Equator. However, Vibe was a success. GM going down the tubes killed it more than anything inherent in the car.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Yer list is missing the biggest abomination:
      Chevy Trailblazer => Saab 9-7x
      lol

    • 0 avatar

      An old album this is, Subaru-Isuzu Aska ,Toyota Camcam-Holden Apollo. Toyota cavalier-Chev Cavalier there dozens more. Toyota Camry was available with 4WD since early 90s and turbo diesel only JDM but we have them in NZ in fact every Jap maker fitted their cars with 4WD in all sizes but only JDM. The Highlander simply follows that path. Subaru have even gone to the trouble of inventing a boxer diesel to fit their chassiss layout so that shows how much investment they have in their quirky design. Toyotaising their car wont create sales by model sharing but some tech sharing might.

    • 0 avatar
      Norma

      ^^ How come you miss this?
      Holden Commodore  –> Pontiac G8
       
      Haha…

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      @Norma

      Holden is owned by GM, so not different automakers sharing the same platform.  Holden was commissioned by GM to develop their next global RWD platform, and Zeta was the result.  In North America we got the G8 GT (for just a little while, sniff sniff) and the Camaro.

      No harm no foul, a lot of people, even people I consider pretty plugged in to the auto industry do not realize that GM has owned Holden since 1933.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      @Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Like the Holden Commodore, when the abomination called the Saab 9-7 was built, to answer a question no one asked, Saab was owned by General Motors.  This wasn’t a case of a partnership between automakers resulting in a badge engineering nightmare, this was just the old GM being GM.

      Ironically as Norma pointed out the Commodore > G8 connection (which falls into the same boat as the Saab 9-7 and Trailblazer) this thread is now connected together like six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon.

      You see, I own a G8 GT, but you couldn’t get an auto dimming rearview mirror from the factory or as a dealer add on.  However the auto dimming rearview mirror out of a Saab 9-7x was plug and play, with compass only (no temp display) and airbag status indicator lights along with OnStar.  See, a rather particular Centex mirror.  I was able to find one on eBay out of a donor 9-7 for $45 and installed the thing in about five minutes.

      Sometimes, badge engineering can be a very good thing.  ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      @Pete

      Actually, I completely agree that the Vibe/Matrix marriage was a darn good one.  The Vibe was typically considered a better buy than the Matrix because it was tied to the GM corporate machine, translation cash on the hood and better car loan rates.  The Matrix had a slight quality nod over its Toyota sibling, possibly because they were built from different factories (Freemont for the Vibe / Ontario for the Matrix).  Also the Matrix has always been a bit of a redheaded ginger kid stepchild for Toyota, which although doesn’t call it a “Corolla Wagon,” likes to count those Matrix sales in the all up Corolla number each month.  The last point I feel is like playing games with numbers; I couldn’t imaging the howls if GM had back in the day rolled up HHR numbers with the Cobalt, saying the HHR is a Cobalt wagon (well, it basically is); the combined number would have moved the Cobalt/HHR combination near the top of the sales chart each month (not sure why that matters).

      I actually looked at the Vibe and Matrix in 2005, I liked them both sans the horrid steering feel, steering wheel position (couldn’t find anything that worked) and cabin noise.  They were great basic utliity vehicles with a well engineered interior.  Utlimately I decided they were both too “base” for my tastes, the GT wasn’t “GT” enough for me, and ultimately not big enough for my family needs.

      The only point where this is a fail is those Matrix owners impacted by the CTS pedal recall really got hosed, with a very complicated and downright frightening “replace/repair” procedure.  Pass the bubble wrap!

  • avatar
    Bob12

    A few things:

    1) I hope the resultant vehicle has third-row legroom more like the Highlander than the Tribeca.

    2) From the post: “Toyota needs a volume nameplate like Highlander to get better mileage than a boxer-powered, full-time AWD (aka, Tribeca-based) model can achieve.”

    Yes, it’s called the Prius MPV. (OK, I’m joking, but only halfway so.)

    3) Also from the post: “Subaru would risk the soul of its brand…by abandoning its commitment…”

    Risking the soul of its brand…the boxer engine layout isn’t the only thing Subaru seems to share with Porsche…
     

  • avatar
    Tifighter

    Tribeca sales cannot possibly justify the cost of engineering a 2nd generation, can they? Go ahead and platform share this one with Toyota to have an updated 3-row offering for brand loyalists. Use the savings to update the old 4AT and add DI to current engines…

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      As long as they keep the “quirky” flying vagina grille!  Oh, and the dopey Tribeca name, I mean who can even park one of those behemoths in TriBeCa, amirite?!

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Surprisingly it seems Subaru can’t justify a new Tribeca. All their models are built off the same basic platform, Tribeca included. The Tribeca did have more unique parts than others. Subaru is truly a small automaker.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Ideally, we’ll see something that splits the difference between a transverse drivetrain, unit body Highlander and a longitudinal drivetrain, body on frame 4Runner: unit body w/ longitudinal drivetrain (basically what the new Jeep GC is).  First, Subaru gets to keep their boxer engine and symmetrical AWD.  Second, they take from the 4Runner for the front as far as suspension pickups and crumple zones, Subaru for the engine cradle, and Highlander for the unit body from cab back.  Sounds like a winner to me with no direct internal competition.

  • avatar
    mtr2car1

    The fanboys will be pissed but the customers who actually buy a Tribeca won’t know or care about any of it.

    I’ve had several Subaru’s and the wife never knew which end did the driving or which way the pistons went – and I would guess that 99% of current Outback/Tribeca owners don’t either.
    …She did ask a couple of times however why it sounded a little like a vw bug.

    Not all Porsche’s are 911′s and not all engines are flat – with the global market the way it is, Subaru can’t afford to be boxed in with one engine idea like Mazda is with the RX.  It’s their AWD that’s their calling card anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      The Walking Eye

      I wouldn’t quite go with 99%, but I get your point.  Subaru actively advertises the AWD all the time feature, so I’d say at least 50% of buyers are aware of that fact.  The percentage is definitely different for drivers.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    All I had to do is read the headline and the first word out of my mouth was… crap.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    If this means that we’ll see a smaller Subaru (Impreza or Outback) with Toyota’s HSD system, I welcome this turn of events. Given that the Japanese manufacturers won’t bring over their excellent overseas diesel powerplants (unlike the Germans, who sell a range of diesel vehicles in the US from a small FWD sedan like the Jetta to a hulking SUVs like the X5/Q7/Mercedes GL-class), the only option for getting better than conventional gas-engine mileage in a Japanese branded car looks to be by means of a hybrid drive system.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Subaru sales are on the improve are they not? The whole “Toyotafication problem” is something invented by the pro-domestic media.
     
    I’m sure they’re big boys at Subaru and Toyota who can sit down for some sensible technology sharing.
     
    Subaru want; stronger multi-cog transmissions, diesel engines and hybrid systems.
     
    Toyota want; an investment that pays them a dividend.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Pete you nailed it.
      In fact I’m giving you the unofficial “TTAC Comment of the Week.” You are now entitled to a free lunch at Waffle House whenever you’re in Atlanta.
      Congrats! I think…

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-X

      My theory is: Subaru’s sales modest sales increase of late is more due to (A) Demographic population shift to the mountainous states requiring 4WD, (B) harder-hitting weather due to global warming, (C) the desertion of other import brands by those adverse to GM or Ford, (D) Subaru becoming the ‘New SAAB’ (poor reliability and all), and (E) offering such a useful/versatile combination as the Outback, (now even BIGGER!).  Still, they can barely drum up enough numbers to keep one plant running.

    • 0 avatar
      The Walking Eye

      The “Toyotafication” problem extends to the manufacturing process.
       
      My brother can add much more detail in this regard, but they came in (the IN plant) and tried to change things to the “Toyota way” which was just a worse way of doing things.  He and his co-workers had developed efficient methods in their department but the Toyota folks wanted it changed to less efficient methods because that was what Toyota did.  His department resisted and ultimately won…but how long before it infiltrates and will others put up as big a fight?

    • 0 avatar
      thetaII

      Whatever happened to the Boxer Diesel?
      http://boxerdiesel.com/

    • 0 avatar
      Lemmy-powered

      Diesel boxers are already powering Legacies in Europe.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      Subaru’s sales are improving because they’ve had a steady string of interesting product over the course of the last decade and because most consumers are brand loyal chumps, not because of anything they’ve done with Toyota in the last couple years. I don’t know exactly what impact Toyota has had on the newer Subarus, but I do know several current Subaru owners who were appalled by what they found in the current Legacy turbo and Outback (as was I), even one or two who despise the new Forrester. Not “car guys” and not “kids” either, just normal people who get comfortable with a brand and then stick with it for several decades. Thing is they’ll probably all still buy Subarus in the future, at least until some public scandal gives them the mental breathing room to move on.

  • avatar
    douglas751

    So, let us see how quickly Toyota squanders the Subaru brand, just as GM did with Saab…

  • avatar
    YYYYguy

    I test drove a new bloated Outback for the first time today.  It one of the most comfortable rides I’ve had in a long time.  I didn’t see anything wrong with this vehicle.  It was a much nicer ride than my wife’s 02 Forester.

    Is Subaru’s reliability really going the way of Saabs?

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      The recent WRXs and STIs have had some issues with ringland failures, but the rest of the lineup seems solid.  Until some data comes out saying otherwise, I’ll continue recommending Subarus to friends and family.  My brother thrashes his 2001 2.5RS mercilessly and it keeps on ticking.  He’s replaced an ignition coil, O2 sensor, and knock sensor in over 100k miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      My aunt and uncle have an ’05 Baja Turbo with an automatic (purchased new). I asked them about it a couple months ago and they’re very happy with it. Ditto for the ’06 Outback wagon that some family friends bought new as well on my recommendation.
       
      The only issues I’ve heard of with Subarus post 2003 is WRXs and STis blowing up from poorly applied modifications and owner abuse. A friend from college just took delivery of a 2011 STi, so we’ll see how that goes.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-X

      I was among the Subaru lovers, believing in their reliability reputation, until my 1999 Outback Lemon.  Every automaker will have a bad car now and again, it just seems that Subaru has so many of them. Since my $8500 loss, I’ve asked a lot of Subaru owners directly about their car (but never the WRX/STI crowd).   What the owners tell me is  that the growing reality of poor Subaru reliability is real.  The last chance encounter with a Subaru owner put another notch in the ‘blown engine’ column.  
      What owners report about their Subaru ownership experience on the web correlates with that undeserved reputation too.  Many bloggers point to the reliability data like JD Power and Consumers Reports, but that is a backward indicator, with it’s own inferiorities.  (Remember, the primary purpose of JD Power and Consumers Reports surveys are the JD Power and Consumers Reports business case.  Create the headline. Sell the product.)  Toyota’s problems show how much of the “reputation” is just circular-media-fluff, inflated, self-generating.
      Another clue: The Subaru lease offers are no amazing deal, indicating poor resale, which means poor demand.  Poor street reputation.  Fear. 

    • 0 avatar
      grzydj

      @Detroit-X
       
      Subaru doesn’t have to offer great leasing deals to move cars because they sell very well on their own. As for your ’99 Outback, what exactly happened to yours and how did the engine blow?
       
      Reliability and brand perception are two very different things, but you seem to be combining them into one.

    • 0 avatar
      carve

      Subaru reliability is pretty good- definitely better than Saab, but there have been some problems.

      - About 10 years ago the head gaskets were awful for about a 6 year span
      - For the WRX to get the magazine acceleration numbers, you have to side-step the clutch at redline.  The clutch and transmission can’t handle much of that abuse before failing
      - The 04-09 Outback has an issue called “ghost walking”, where the rear end slides from side to side in slick conditions.  It only affects some cars, and there’s no sure fire way to fix it
      - The 10+ Outback has a “steering shimmy” issue.  At freeway speeds, the steering wheel will quickly rotate back and forth a degree or two.  It affects some cars right off the lot, and appears in others later.  Severity varies.  Subaru has issued several TSB’s fixing all sorts of things trying to fix this (from bushings, trans mounts, to tire balance, to the steering wheel itself).  It’s helped some, but the issue is still there and nobody is sure why.

      I was almost about to buy a new Outback for my new ski car, but I’m not going to buy something that may have an unfixable problem.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Hmmm, does Toyota think Subaru is spelled S-A-T-U-R-N?  I see some parallels (take the brand known for being quirky and kill it by degrees through platform prostitution).

  • avatar
    L'avventura

    The whole point of the FT86 was that a FR & boxer engine would mean a very low sporty hood.  Obviously, if they add AWD to the Subaru version they don’t get that unique sporty look (which may be fine for Subaru).  One solution is a E-AWD system that has motors to drive two wheels and a normal RWD setup, Subaru has shown this with their Sports Tourer Concept.
     
    There are many ways that RWD is well suited for a boxer engine, and which Subaru doesn’t include in their lineup.  Toyota has an opportunity to use these engines in unique ways, for instance the next Altezza (Lexus IS) is rumored to be using a 4-door FT86 chassis (which is a based on the Legacy).  A RWD Flat-6 Boxer-engined Lexus would be a sporty rival to the 3-series (and Leuxus already has a V6 in the GS/ES).
     
    Subaru’s Flat-6 engine is under utilized, I wouldn’t mind seeing a flat-6 Subaru “Tacoma’.  Or a boxer engine Mini fighter, mid-engined boxer in that new MR-S test vehicle that Toyota/Gazoo have running.  The possibilities are many.
     
    The fact is that Japanese companies need to consolidate if they are to survive.  S. Korea’s big dog is pretty much a single entity Hyundai/Kia, Japan can’t compete with 8 different car companies.  If they are to compete they need to better pool their resources, we are moving to a more nationalistic automotive industry these days with governments playing supportive roles to the autoindustry.  Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Honda should be the next to form some level of wide-ranging alliance.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Why does Subaru even need to keep the Tribeca?  It wasn’t a successful CUV, and one could argue that Subaru already has the CUV and wagon markets covered relatively well.
     
    Of course, if Toyota’s main concern is GM-style platform sharing to better amortize platform costs, then sensible product planning may as well take a hike.  Perhaps Toyota is going to prove once again the principle that mass-market automakers just don’t have a feel for niche brands.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      I agree – the Tribeca serves no purpose in the Subaru/Toyota lineup. The 2010+ Outback largely fills the crossover niche occupied by the Tribeca with its larger size compared to the 2005-2009 model.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    What a pity. Subys are going to become very boring and bland. Oh well, I’m sure the Koreans or Chinese will bring alternatives.

  • avatar
    George B

    If the Subaru Tribeca just disappeared, who would really care?  I never understood the attraction of a full time AWD car with it’s friction losses, but without the ground clearance and ruggedness of a truck.  Only makes sense if you live in a place where the roads are very frequently slippery, but the snow is rarely very deep.  No way Toyota can make the Highlander less reliable or less fuel efficient just to share with Subaru.


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