Subaru Turns to Its Friends for Electrification Help

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

If you’re a modern-day automaker without an electrification strategy, you’re in trouble. Not only will you face the global stigma of being truly evil, you might also miss out on the possibility of future sales. Sure, electric vehicles only account for about 1 percent of total domestic deliveries right now, but it’s a growth market, spurred on by political pressure and regulatory action. Some regions, like California, have plug-ins taking up as much as 5 percent of annual car sales.

Subaru needs help, as it doesn’t sell a single electrified vehicle. The brand discontinued the Crosstrek Hybrid, and its only battery-driven plug-in, the long-defunct Stella EV, was sold only in Japan and proved about as popular as VD. While Subaru can certainly build a good car, it hasn’t had the best luck with electric vehicles.

It’s now calling on its “friends” for backup.

Despite having an in-house electrification project, Subaru’s chief technical officer Takeshi Tachimori told Automotive News the brand will lean heavily on Toyota to produce its upcoming plug-in hybrid and pure EV. “For our plug-in hybrid to be introduced this year, we have used Toyota’s technologies as much as possible,” Tachimori explained.

Most of that tech will be sourced from the Prius Prime, however, the final product will not be a rebadged Toyota. Subaru’s hybrid will use a longitudinal powertrain, instead of a transverse one, but it will share parts. The company’s tight R&D budget requires the manufacturer to expend the majority of its resources perfecting its current boxer engine and assorted safety systems.

“We can’t engage in a large-scale [EV] development,” Tachimori said.

Subaru wants a totally electric vehicle by 2021. That program also hinges on Toyota’s support, as Subaru has decided to join its EV Common Architecture Spirit Co. — which includes both Mazda and Denso. The group’s aim is to jointly develop basic structural technologies for electric cars. Subaru, along with Suzuki, Hino, and Daihatsu, are latecomers to the program but Tachimori feels it’s a good way to ensure his company doesn’t fall behind in its development efforts.

“If there is a basic technological foundation, that would help carmakers not waste resources,” he said.

However, Subaru doesn’t expect electrified vehicles to become its best-selling models. Tachimori claims the new plug-in hybrid will only be sold in states with stringent zero-emission vehicle regulations. Meanwhile, it’ll continue development on the BEV as it looks to its biggest competitors for assistance. But while the brand appears to recognize electric vehicles as important, Subaru also seems to be taking a cautious approach.

“Every carmaker has a sense of urgency,” Tachimori said. “We don’t know how battery technology will evolve or how we should handle it or what would be the best way to use it as an energy source. Carmakers are still trying to figure out what a basic EV structure will look like.”

[Images: Subaru]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • DavidB DavidB on Feb 05, 2018

    By 07 February, Subaru of America is to call me back with an answer as to whether they will cover or contribute to the head gasket repair needed on my 2004 Forester 2.5X. It currently has 112,874 miles which, of course, is out of warranty. However, the local Subaru dealer replaced these head gaskets in 2011 at 54,581 miles under warranty. This Forester replaced my 1997 Legacy 5spd wagon that I drove 67k flawless miles until 2004. The dealer quoted $2,800 for the repair, including timing belt and water pump. Their decision will determine whether I ever own another Subaru. Am I unreasonable to expect a head gasket to last longer than 55k miles?

    • Conundrum Conundrum on Feb 06, 2018

      Yes. Because you have no idea how well the dealership performed the head gasket work back in 2011. There is also the matter of time - do you expect to be warranted forever? I don't suppose Subaru is quaking in its boots worrying about your test for a freebie as to whether you buy a new Forester. My Subaru dealer was once excellent, with two outstanding mechanics. They left one after the other and now run the city's police car service center. The mechanics remaining are stumped beyond opening carboard boxes of replacement parts, then when that doesn't work, well it's not their fault. Useless. In my wretched climate, rust is what has caused trouble. Gas tank filler necks, radiator supports rusted off, the rear diff carrier subframe scaling away to nothing. Completely seized brake calipers and two sets of disc rotors have come and gone on my 2008. The other failing is wheel bearings - three out of four gone in a mere 75K. I don't drive a lot, but when I do I stomp it hard, being a turbo. I bought it for some go power and AWD in winter. No point complaining about mileage. My previous '99 Impreza was more reliable than the Legacy turbo, so there's that, but neither engine used(s) oil, although the Impreza leaked it into the spark plug wells. No head gasket problems. The dealer keeps trying to sell me new cars. Five minutes in the BRZ and I knew it was a dud. The current Impreza and the 2012 to 2017 ones with the new chain cam drive have exactly zero "heart". They are extremely boring cars, not a patch on the late '90s Impreza, but no doubt safer to drive into a tree. The WRX is just too damn loud with an el cheapo interior, and not all that quick with lumpy engine response. The Legacy 3.6 is slothful and wobbly. Subaru has changed since 2010 or so but I haven't in what I look for. So, barring a miracle, no new Subaru for me.

  • Conundrum Conundrum on Feb 06, 2018

    Here on TTAC, everyone has opinions on vehicles they've never driven let alone owned, and opinions are delivered as if they were facts from on high. Me, I waste dealers' time trying out cars, and my opinion, for what it's not worth, is that cars are not that great to drive these days. Crossovers bore the living sh!t out of me, including my brother's CX-5, and give me a depressed feeling. Zero joie-de-vivre. No enthusiasm. Then there's pickup trucks, which I laughed at 50 years ago and see no reason to like today, ponderous ill-handling brutes. If I had any interest in trucks I'd go to a truck site, but here I get fed trucks day in day out on a site nominally about cars. My years with leaf sprung live axles ended in 1964, and I have no wish to return to antiquity. This site is called The Truth About Cars and is owned by the Toronto Star newspaper Corporation Torstar through Verticalscope which sold out to it several years ago. Obviously TTAC has changed through the years to the mild milquetoast format of today. Stevenson tried to get something going but was overwhelmed; Healey has gone to ground showing no evidence of leadership at all. Under him, there has been no enunciation at all of what TTAC stands for. Time to wake up There have been articles by enthusiastic readers which I commend, such as Rare Rides, but the general tenor is slothful and yet opiniated on social matters like what life's like beyond the blinkered borders of North America. Beyond Baruth and his Life Journey to Somewhere or other, the remaining staff have no technical or writing chops that can be called definitive. The fiasco that went on for months where we were informed that Mazda's new SkyActiv-X engine was sparkless was indicative of the uninformed technical side of the "truth" about cars. And what's more, the author repeating the fallacy over and over again seemed to bask in his ignorance. After all, are there any consequences for getting it wrong? Apparently not. Having run some decent sized engineering departments in my time, I'd have made some changes if I'd been running the place. General mediocrity and being afraid to stick one's head up above the gunwales is the signature of just getting by. If you don't demand excellence, and exhibit the same by showing the way, then this is what you get. Comfiness and little else. I wouldn't waste my time writing all this, if I didn't hope that there was a chance this place would buck up a bit. But it's rapidly approaching the extinction point for me, and judging by others' comments, I'm not alone in thinking this way. It's surely time to move beyond walking on the spot, which is worn out from overuse and repetition.

  • JK I grew up with Dodge trucks in the US, and now live in Turin, Italy, the home of Fiat. I don't think Italians view this as an Italian company either. There are constant news articles and protests about how stalantis is moving operations out of Italy. Jeep is strangely popular here though. I think last time I looked at stelantis's numbers, Jeep was the only thing saving them from big big problems.
  • Bd2 Oh yeah, funny how Trumpers (much less the Orange Con, himself) are perfectly willing to throw away the Constitution...
  • Bd2 Geeze, Anal sure likes to spread his drivelA huge problem was Fisher and his wife - who overspent when they were flush with cash and repeatedly did things ad hoc and didn't listen to their employees (who had more experience when it came to auto manufacturing, engineering, etc).
  • Tassos My Colleague Mike B bought one of these (the 300 SEL, same champagne color) new around June 1990. I thought he paid $50k originally but recently he told me it was $62k. At that time my Accord 1990 Coupe LX cost new, all included, $15k. So today the same car means $150k for the S class and $35k-40k for the Accord. So those %0 or 62k , these were NOT worthless, Idiot Joe Biden devalued dollars, so he paid AN ARM AND A LEG. And he babied the car, he really loved it, despite its very weak I6 engine with a mere 177 HP and 188 LBFT, and kept it forever. By the time he asked me to drive it (to take him to the dealer because his worthless POS Buick Rainier "SUV" needed expensive repairs (yes, it was a cheap Buick but he had to shell out thousands), the car needed a lot of suspension work, it drove like an awful clunker. He ended up donating it after 30 years or so. THIS POS is no different, and much older. Its CHEAPSKATE owner should ALSO donate it to charity instead of trying to make a few measly bucks off its CARCASS. Pathetic!
  • RHD The re-paint looks like it was done with a four-inch paintbrush. As far as VWs go, it's a rebadged Seat... which is still kind of a VW, made in Mexico from a Complete Knock-Down kit. 28 years in Mexico being driven like a flogged mule while wearing that ridiculous rear spoiler is a tough life, but it has actually survived... It's unique (to us), weird, funky (very funky), and certainly not worth over five grand plus the headaches of trying to get it across the border and registered at the local DMV.