Subaru (スバル?) (/ˈsuːbəruː/ or /sᵿbˈɑːruː/; Japanese pronunciation: [sɯ.ba.ɾɯ]) is the automobile manufacturing division of Japanese transportation conglomerate Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), the twenty-second biggest automaker by production worldwide in 2012.
Subaru cars are known for the use of a boxer engine layout in most vehicles above 1500 cc. Most Subaru models have used the Symmetrical All Wheel Drive drive-train layout since 1972. The flat/boxer engine and all-wheel-drive became standard equipment for mid-size and smaller cars in most international markets by 1996, and is now standard in most North American market Subaru vehicles. The lone exception is the BRZ, introduced in 2012, which uses the boxer engine but instead uses a rear-wheel-drive structure. Subaru also offers turbocharged versions of their passenger cars, such as the Impreza WRX and the Legacy 2.5GT. The 2.5XT trims of the Outback and Forester also include a turbocharged engine.
In Western markets, the Subaru brand has traditionally been popular among a dedicated core of buyers. Marketing is targeted towards specific niches centered on those who desire the company’s signature drive train, in particular the outdoors enthusiast and affordable sports car markets.
Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades star cluster M45, or “The Seven Sisters” (one of whom tradition says is invisible – hence only six stars in the Subaru logo), which in turn inspires the logo and alludes to the companies that merged to create FHI.
Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) and Subaru’s first cars
Fuji Heavy Industries started out as The Aircraft Research Laboratory in 1915, headed by Chikuhei Nakajima. In 1932, the company was reorganized as Nakajima Aircraft Company, Ltd and soon became a major manufacturer of aircraft for Japan during World War II. At the end of the Second World War Nakajima Aircraft was again reorganized, this time as Fuji Sangyo Co, Ltd. In 1946, the company created the Fuji Rabbit motor scooter with spare aircraft parts from the war. In 1950, Fuji Sangyo was divided into 12 smaller corporations according to the Japanese Government’s 1950 Corporate Credit Rearrangement Act, anti-zaibatsu legislation. Between 1953 and 1955, four of these corporations and a newly formed corporation decided to merge to form Fuji Heavy Industries. These companies were: Fuji Kogyo, a scooter manufacturer; coachbuilders Fuji Jidosha; engine manufacturers Omiya Fuji Kogyo; chassis builders Utsunomiya Sharyo and the Tokyo Fuji Dangyo trading company.
Kenji Kita, CEO of Fuji Heavy Industries at the time, wanted the new company to be involved in car manufacturing and soon began plans for building a car with the development code-name P-1. Mr. Kita canvassed the company for suggestions about naming the P1, but none of the proposals was appealing enough. In the end he gave the company a Japanese name that he had “been cherishing in his heart”: Subaru, which is the name of the Pleiades star cluster in Japanese. The first Subaru car was named the Subaru 1500. Only twenty were manufactured owing to multiple supply issues. Subsequently the company designed and manufactured dozens of vehicles including the 1500 (1954), the tiny air-cooled 360 (1958), the Sambar (1961), and the 1000 (which saw the introduction of the Subaru boxer engine in 1965).
Nissan acquired a 20.4% stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company, in 1968 during a period of government-ordered merging of the Japanese auto industry in order to improve competitiveness under the administration of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. Nissan would utilize FHI’s bus manufacturing capability and expertise for their Nissan Diesel line of buses. In turn many Subaru vehicles, even today, use parts from the Nissan manufacturing keiretsu. The Subaru automatic transmission, known as the 4EAT, is also used in the first generation Nissan Pathfinder. While under this arrangement with Nissan, Subaru introduced the R-2 (1969), the Rex and the Leone (1971), the BRAT (1978), Alcyone (1985), the Legacy (1989), the Impreza (1993) (and its WRX subtype), and the Forester (1997).
Upon Nissan’s acquisition by Renault, its stake in FHI was sold to General Motors in 1999. Troy Clarke, of General Motors served as representative to Fuji Heavy Industries on their corporate board. During that time, Subaru introduced the Baja (2003), and the Tribeca (2005). The Subaru Forester was sold as a Chevrolet Forester in India in exchange for the Opel Zafira being sold as a Subaru Traviq in Japan. Also, the Chevrolet Borrego concept was presented in 2002, a crossover coupe/pickup truck being derived from the Japanese-market Legacy Turbo platform. During the brief General Motors period, a “badge engineered” Impreza was sold in the United States as the Saab 9-2X. An SUV (Subaru Tribeca / Saab 9-6X) was also planned but the Saab version did not proceed, and styling was recycled in the 2008 Tribeca refresh.
GM liquidated their holdings in FHI in 2005. Nearly all Saab-Subaru joint projects were dropped at that time, other than Subaru supplying parts for the Saab 9-2x. Toyota Motors bought a little over 40% of GM’s former FHI stock, amounting to 8.7% of FHI. (The rest of GM’s shares went to a Fuji stock buy-back program.) Toyota and Subaru have since collaborated on a number of projects, among them building the Toyota Camry in Subaru’s Indiana U.S. plant beginning in April 2007. Subaru introduced the Exiga in 2008.
Toyota increased their share of FHI to 16.5% in July of 2008. Subsequently, Toyota and Subaru jointly developed the Toyota 86, first sold in January 2012 as the Subaru BRZ and by Toyota under various names.
Some of the advertising slogans Subaru has used in the past include “Inexpensive, and built to stay that way” (USA 1970s – early 1980s), “The World’s Favourite Four Wheel Drive” (in the UK), “Plus on y pense, plus on a le gout de la conduire” (Literally: “The more one thinks, the more one has the taste (or desire, impulse, drive) of driving it”) in French Quebec, “We built our reputation by building a better car”, “What to Drive”, “The Beauty of All-Wheel Drive”, “Driven by What’s Inside”, “Think, Feel, Drive”, “Love. It’s what makes Subaru, a Subaru” (USA early 2010s) and currently “Confidence in Motion” in North America, “All 4 The Driver” in Australia, and “Uncommon Engineering, Uncommon Stability, Uncommon Roadholding, Uncommon Sense” in the UK and “Technology that gives you Confidence in Motion” in Southeast Asia.
As a result of this[clarification needed] refocused advertising campaign, Subaru products began to attract a following among the young and educated, who saw the car as a practical alternative to the SUV craze. Subaru has historically been popular in the Northeastern United States as well as the Pacific Northwest. According to Automotive Lease Guide, Subaru ranked second place in vehicles that have the highest overall predicted resale values among all industry and all luxury vehicles for MY 2009. The awards are derived after carefully studying segment competition, historical vehicle performance and industry trends. According to a study done by J.D. Power and Associates for the 2008 Customer Retention Study, Subaru ranked at 50.5%, which was above the national average of 48%.
Hōkago no Pleiades (Original net animation)
Subaru launched an animation series Hōkago no Pleiades (放課後のプレアデス Hōkago no Pureadesu?, lit. ‘After School Pleiades’) developed jointly with Gainax. The 4-part mini episode series was released on YouTube on February 1, 2011. It featured a magical girl plot with Subaru as a leading protagonist.