Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior has told CarAdvice that while the Subaru BRZ is never going to be a volume-seller for the brand locally, the rear-wheel-drive sports car still aligns with the manufacturer's philosophy and, in fact, plays an important role in attracting non-core customers to the predominantly all-wheel-drive marque.
Speaking to CarAdvice at the launch of Subaru’s sixth Melbourne dealership (Subaru Essendon) – its first in the city in eight years – Senior said the introduction of a rear-wheel-drive model, the BRZ, to the line-up hasn’t altered the local arm’s iconic all-wheel-drive image.
“It hasn’t changed the philosophy, it hasn’t changed the customer sentiment – we are still primarily an all-wheel-drive company and always will be,” Senior said. “I think with BRZ, we’re very transparent [in] saying that we introduced it because it’s got elements that are consistent with our driving philosophy.”
With 24 units of the two-door, four-seat BRZ being shifted last month, and 230 shifted year-to-date – accounting for less than one per cent of Subaru’s total volume for 2016 – the local MD is under no misconceptions in terms of the model’s sales significance.
“It’s not volume, but it attracts a customer that traditionally we haven’t been able to talk to. And I think in terms of where we want to take the brand – toward being aspirational – for both volume and from a strategic point of view, it’s important to attract those new customers.”
Specifically highlighting a market of younger buyers keen on a WRX but not in a position to afford one, Senior says the soon-to-be-updated BRZ – currently priced from $37,150 – fills an important role for the brand in Australia. No surprise, it’s a model he wants to see carry on beyond its upcoming 2017 facelift.
“We don’t have a performance car in the low $30,000s, and I believe it’s a market where young males in particular – and an increasing number of females in BRZs too – who are attracted by the emotion of a two-door sports car, we can get them into the brand. If you can get them into the brand, you’ve got a chance to talk to them next time.
“We’re never going to get rich on BRZ, but it’s nice to have it there.”
As positively as Senior views the company’s decision to introduce a rear-wheel-drive model to the range, he is adamant the move in no way opens the door to the local introduction of a front-wheel-drive Subaru.
“Nup, nup, nup, nup,” Senior said shaking his head. “It’s not available and we’re not going to do one.”
Being simply too-at-odds with Subaru Australia’s core ‘DNA’ and ‘USP’ (unique selling point) of offering buyers a ‘different’ proposition of symmetrical all-wheel drive and a ‘boxer’ engine, Senior just as flatly rules out having any interest in entering the brand into the Australian Supercars Championship.
“None,” Senior says unequivocally, despite successful racing overseas for the WRX STI, BRZ, and Levorg, in the Nurburgring 24 Hour, Japanese Super GT, and British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), respectively.
The next phase of Australian touring-car racing – formerly known as V8 Supercar – the Gen2 Supercar series is aimed at increasing the relevance of the championship, allowing for turbocharged four- or six-cylinder engines to compete from 2017. All cars must also be based on publicly available, front-engine, right-hand-drive four-seaters.
“We’ve made the decision this year – and for various reasons – to get back into motorsport with rallying,” Senior said.
“And [with Molly Taylor in a production car-based WRX STI NR4] we’ve been blown away by what she’s been able to achieve in a stock-standard car against much more highly-modified cars and lighter cars.”
The Australian chief said having Subaru back in the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) is positive news for more than just the company itself.
“[It’s] good for the brand, good for the dealers, good for the customers. And we know that customers and dealers are interested and they love it.”
Senior admitted he’d personally love to see the Pleiades-emblazoned brand take the next step globally, and return to the World Rally Championship (WRC), but that, “At the moment there’s not a car that’s suitable.”
“I think the factory would love to [too] but… you need basically a B-segment car. There’s nothing on our portfolio that’s a B-segment car.”
Finally, Senior said that while he fondly looks back on past rivalries between the WRX and STI and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the recent demise of the rally-bred ‘Evo’ doesn’t significantly alter the market place.
“No, it doesn’t really,” Senior said. “I think some of the heady days of motorsport, particularly in rallying, was Evo versus STI, and you do like that, it’s nice to have strong competition. But at the end of the day… I mean, as one competitor comes, another will go, and it’s been that way for the journey of WRX and STI since 1994.
“You know, every sports car that’s launched is ‘The death of the WRX and STI’. But you know, 20 years later, we’ve sold 50,000 iconic names and it’s doing very well.”
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