By on May 22, 2017

2018 outback

With the exception of Mazda and — until its Outlander PHEV finally lands on U.S. shores — Mitsubishi, Subaru remains one of very few automakers to completely eschew electrified powertrains.

Despite lacking any fully electric, plug-in hybrid or hybrid model (the unloved Crosstrek Hybrid met a quiet death last year), Subaru’s U.S. customer base continues to expand at a rapid clip, but a gas-only strategy can’t survive forever. Environmental regulations the world over insist Subaru should follow the lead of its rivals and build something without pistons.

Well, Subaru plans to. However, unlike many of its rivals, the automaker has indicated it might take a different path towards this goal.

According to Bloomberg, Subaru isn’t fearful of electrified powertrains, but it isn’t so sure the technology needs to exist in standalone models. Nor does it feel such a vehicle should ride on a dedicated platform.

In an interview, Chief Executive Officer Yasuyuki Yoshinaga said his company is considering building electric versions of existing models, rather than sink money into an electric-only offering. Just think of the eco cred a battery-powered Outback could give you.

The automaker has set aside $1.2 billion for R&D for the coming fiscal year, and hopes to have a plug-in hybrid model ready for sometime in 2018. An all-electric vehicle will arrive by 2021. For Subaru, electrifying existing models would negate the need to partner with an other automaker, and would allow the greener vehicles to capitalize on the model’s good name.

“If there’s already an attractive Subaru model, for example the XV [Crosstrek] crossover, and if a customer in Beijing wants one but is only allowed to buy an electric vehicle, if there’s no electric version then he can’t buy it,” said Yoshinaga. “Providing the choice of an EV means the customer can still desire the same Subaru.”

With this in mind, Subaru developed its modular global platform to host a wide range of propulsion sources, including an all-electric option.

Volkswagen has developed an all-new platform for its electric I.D. sub-brand, and Mercedes-Benz plans to follow a similar naming convention with its I.Q.-badged electric vehicles. That rubs Yoshinaga the wrong way. While he doesn’t want to be left behind by other automakers with bigger R&D budgets, the CEO would prefer to see “Subaru” prominently displayed on all of his company’s vehicles.

[Image: Subaru]

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27 Comments on “With Nothing Electric in Its Lineup, Subaru Considers an Easier Solution...”

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    I can see how this would work for hybrids, which have often been based on IC vehicles, but aren’t pure electric vehicles different?

    I can’t imagine that you could convert a IC platform into an all electric platform without ending up with a lot of design compromises that would put you at a disadvantage vs. vehicles that were clean sheet electric designs.

    Also from a marketing POV, don’t electric buyers WANT their cars not to look like IC cars? In the hybrid area, cars like the Prius have been more successful than other hybrids BECAUSE they were distinctive and allowed you to loudly proclaim your green credentials. If you pay extra for “eco” features and none of your friends even notice that you have an “eco” vehicle because the only difference is a little sticker, then what’s the point?

    • 0 avatar

      “If you pay extra for “eco” features and none of your friends even notice that you have an “eco” vehicle because the only difference is a little sticker, then what’s the point?”

      Maybe the point is that you bought a vehicle to make you happy, not your friends?

      And driving up with a silent powertrain (electric) should say more than a little sticker anyway, as well as pulling up to charging stations.

      I agree with some of your points, but to say there is no point in buying an “eco friendly” car other than to impress people is a bit difficult to swallow. I know some people buy the Prius to prove how much they care to their fellow motorist, but that isn’t the only point of such vehicles.

      I guess if I was inclined to buy such a car, knowing myself that its eco-friendly would be enough for me.

      Edit, there are no successful (yet) “cars like the Prius”, only the Prius itself has been successful as a dedicated Hybrid so far. The jury is still out on Hyundai-Kia’s attempts at a stand-alone Hybrid model. Honda tried several formulas of dedicated Hybrids, they all failed in the market place. Ford’s C-Max dedicated Hybrid isn’t exactly setting sales charts on fire, either.

      However, traditional cars with Hybrid versions, like Fusion Hybrid, Rav4 Hybrid and in the past, the Ford Escape Hybrid, were/are successful.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree but with one correction. The C Max was never meant to be a hybrid but Ford brought it over here from Europe as one. Thats why the packaging is so bad. I was told that if there is a next C Max that it would be from the ground up a hybrid to alleviate that issue. So yes its sold here as hybrid only but that was not its first job at creation.

    • 0 avatar

      @Jack. Ha ha, you couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the U.S. Subaru customer base we are talking about. The majority don’t care about the image thing. They just want a practical vehicle that’s devoid of pretensions.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Denver

        Sometimes appearing to being devoid of pretensions is itself a pretension.

      • 0 avatar

        @WRC555 The majority don’t care about the image thing. They just want a practical vehicle that’s devoid of pretensions.

        You just made me realize how much of a Subaru person I am after years of being a traditional Honda loyalist.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought a Leaf even though most people think it’s a Versa. I bought it not because of any eco cred but rather because I live in Oregon, where we’re forced to wait for someone else to pump our gas, which I find annoying.

      In other words it was purely a convenience thing. The cost savings is nice too, but that wasn’t really the motivator as it’ll take quite some time to come out ahead there..

      • 0 avatar

        Wow, having an attendant pump gas is still a thing in Oregon? It’s been a few years since I’ve made the trip up I-5, but I would have thought that by 2017 things would have changed.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree on the clean sheet approach (what do you do with a hood if there is no engine?)

      However please notic3 that, starting with Norway, there are always more places where EV are becoming the only choice, so the marketing thing may very well turn upside down: “Hey look, I have a normal-look Outback even if I was only allowed to buy an EV”

    • 0 avatar

      The ‘eco’ friends seem fine with some ‘eco’ hypocrisy…

      What is the electric source percentage in the US these days? 66% from coal & NG and 20% nuke with the balance from alternatives?

      Can you get a charge 100 miles off the beaten path at your camp site?

      • 0 avatar

        “Can you get a charge 100 miles off the beaten path at your camp site?”

        Campgrounds are great places to pick up a charge, especially if they have NEMA 14/50 RV Hookups. 120v works too.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, pure EVs are different. They need more space and more cooling for the fuel, and less space and less cooling for the motor. So the packaging of an ICE car is always going to make an awkwardly compromised car when you convert it to an EV. Passengers will lose space to an intrusive battery, and not gain it back from a shorter hood. This is a pretty dubious strategy fur Subaru.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, space utilization and packaging in an electrified Forester wouldn’t be ideal. There’s already oodles of wasted space between the boxer and that boxy hood. You wouldn’t want to put the batteries up front, in the place of the internal combustion components, because that might result in truly awful weight distribution.

        I predict that as a result of this conundrum, the new Elecri-bu cars will carry their spare tire under the hood, just like back in the old days.

  • avatar

    Subarus have never really been fuel efficient. Subaru’s engines are stuck in the 1990s in terms of power and fuel efficiency. They’d really almost be better off using Toyota powertrains.

    • 0 avatar

      To be fair, a quick glance at their website shows power and efficiency on par with their rivals. I know they have a reputation for being a getting less than stellar output and efficiency, but that seems to be in the past for the most part.

      Also they’ve compromised some in those areas to offer relatively unique (Porsche too) power-train format and standard AWD.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      Fuel efficiency is probably more related to AWD friction and weight than the engine. If you look at their current 2.5L, non-turbo engines, both Toyota and Subaru get around 170 hp/ 170 lb ft. of torque out of them.

      Boxer engines seem to have lost favor but it’s certainly possible to get a lot of power out of them. The boxer is one of the things that makes a Subaru a Subaru. If they made Toyotas (and actually they did at the their US plant for many years) then why wouldn’t people just buy “real” Toyota’s instead?

      Boxer engine is very short front to back (maybe 16″) which gives it advantages for Subaru’s AWD system – engine sits longitudinally ahead of the front axle with transmission behind, 2 half shafts leading to front wheels and a driveshaft coming out the back. It would be hard to duplicate this setup with a straight 4 so they would have completely toss their entire drivetrain, not just the engines.

      • 0 avatar

        Audi builds plenty of I4 vehicles with this layout. It’s quite doable.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m not talking power in raw numbers, rather in feel and torque curve. I’m not a particular fan of low displacement turbo engines, but if there ever was a case for a 2.0T it’s Subaru, if just for the torque curve alone.

    • 0 avatar

      Which AWD vehicles in their classes are more fuel efficient than the Forester and Outback? Not Toyota — the RAV4 is rated lower than the Forester.

      • 0 avatar

        Who cares about fuel efficiency? Gas is cheap and oil is plentiful.

        Subies are very popular in my area but the H-4 is not even adequate for high-altitude mountain driving.

        The H6 Outback is the better choice.

    • 0 avatar

      Not really – Subaru are now among the most efficient 4wd vehicles with the cvt. manual vehicles are not the greatest.

  • avatar

    “If there’s already an attractive Subaru model, for example the XV [Crosstrek] crossover, and if a customer in Beijing wants one but is only allowed to buy an electric vehicle, if there’s no electric version then he can’t buy it”

    That better be a *LOT* of Beijing volume for that to make sense…

  • avatar

    Aw, I was ready to read about wood-burning steam powered vehicles. Hybrids in existing models – what a let-down.

  • avatar

    Mercedes is naming its sub-brand EQ, not I.Q. C’mon guys…

  • avatar

    Subaru will be just fine with gas only vehicles. If Subaru wants to make improvements they can start with noise insulation, better engines, better interiors, and better CVT’s.

  • avatar

    And by “easier” they actually mean “cheaper,” because it’s easier to start from scratch when designing an EV, as opposed to converting an ICE to EV without big compromises. Anyhow, despite today’s strong-ish Subie sales, I feel Subie is destined to become a Toyota sub brand, so they’re just biding their time, as this article alludes to.

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