The joint-venture between Subaru and Toyota has already started presenting small problems for one of the Japanese manufacturers. Subaru's marketing gurus are working hard trying to figure out how to sell a rear-wheel-drive sports car when they have spent the last 15 years promoting all-wheel-drive.
However with the Big T raising its stake in Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru's parent company) to 16.5 percent from 8.7 percent, when there is a will, there is a way. But how will Subaru, which is contributing the majority of components to the project, keep its car from being labelled as a rebadged Toyota?
Last year Subaru only sold 7 percent of Toyota's global sales volume and despite its small car in the Japanese market, Subaru has built a niche image as an all-wheel-drive specialist. How will the new rear-wheel-drive affect its marketing position?
According to Mat Nagato, chief of overseas sales at Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries, careful and delicate marketing will be the key to success when the affordable sports car debuts in late 2011.
" A potential question could be cannibalization," Nagato said Sunday, April 20, at the Beijing auto show. " We may lose our longstanding territory, or we may lose the great niche brand image. The potential risk is there. We have to be very smart on marketing strategy."
The small, affordable and naturally aspirated sports car is destined to revive enthusiast interest in Toyota's current lacklustre lineup, but I do wonder, if it's based on the Impreza platform (minus the AWD) uses Subaru's horizontally opposed boxer engine and other components, why exactly, would you opt out for the Toyota variant over the Subaru one?
Toyota will certainly use the AE86 name for the new car and you can see early prototype images of what the car will look like under the Toyota badge here.
In another bit of worrying news for Subaru fans, the company is expected to receive small vehicles from Toyota Motor Corp. and its minicar partner Daihatsu! Subaru is also rumoured to be the driving force behind the new Celica GT4 project.
How will the Australian market react to having, essentially, the same small sports car selling under two different brands?
No doubt Subaru's variant will be better equipped and may even receive STis treatment for a hot turbocharged model, but going head-to-head against Toyota will be a tough battle.
One of the original ideas was to divide global markets into Subaru-only and Toyota-only domains, but that has now been rejected.
I put the question to you, would you pay a premium for the Subaru badge over Toyota's for basically the same car?