The bold strategy was designed principally to grow the Impreza’s appeal among younger drivers. The previous model was reliable and safe, but a touch dowdy, and the company found itself under-indexed with buyers aged below 50.
Of course, Subaru will also sell the Impreza alongside its other models through its brick-and-mortar dealer network as well, and expects the vast majority of its customers to still buy the car in the conventional way.
Subaru Australia wants to double sales of the new Impreza, indicating somewhere close to 10,000 sales in 2017. Given it will sell close to 1000 before year’s end despite only launching this month, it seems a reasonable aim.
The online ‘Build and Buy’ purchase option for the Impreza will launch on December 29 at Subaru’s Australian public website.
But the mainstream Impreza is a rather different proposition to these two performance cars, which both have devoted followings more suited to a radical purchasing model.
To keep dealers on side, anyone who buys an Impreza virtually will take delivery from a showroom, to which Subaru pays delivery fee. They can also handle trade-ins and servicing either on-site or through its network of mobile mechanic's vans.
Addressing a key concern, Subaru also encourages online customers to cool their heels and consider a test drive, either for 30 minutes or on extended loan. It once even refunded an over-eager BRZ buyer who bought before driving.
Meantime the company’s first shopping centre store is backed by Subaru Australia’s official importer and located in the Melbourne suburb of Werribee.
In a bid to keep its franchise partners onside, future interactive stores (with test-drive facilities) and pop-ups will be run by the dealers, who are eager to diversify and experiment too.
The blueprint store consists of a digital showroom; driving simulators, performance stories showcasing the Subaru Global Platform, and merchandise. The new flagship store is expected to average 40 to 50 vehicle sales per month.
Subaru Australia is also opening its first pop-up store in Sydney, in Castle Towers Shopping Centre, early next year. An additional number of these stores are expected to open in 2017, beginning with a site in Western Australia.
Industry followers would suggest that Subaru is gradually easing its way into a new transaction model while keeping its extant infrastructure on side.
With refreshing candour, Subaru Australia’s recently appointed managing director Colin Christie told CarAdvice this week that the company was basically throwing a bunch of ideas out there and seeing what sticks.
The company certainly isn’t expecting a stampede of buyers to purchase their Impreza online or after a car-park test drive outside a shopping centre.
Christie said frankly: ‘We don’t know how it’s going to go... We don’t believe at least in the next x number of years that there won’t be bricks and mortar,” he added.
“Will online grow? To be honest we don’t know. BRZ was a very different model, and with STi we really use the model to help our rural network. Impreza is really our first toe in the water with a mass-market product.”
In Subaru's corner, industry data shows that the average number of dealer visits taken by the average buyer in the purchasing process has dropped from seven to about 1.5. People research online and drive to validate a decision.
When all is said and done, Subaru’s plan to enter 2017 armed with a template for shopping centre stores, pop-ups, online sales, mobile service vans and extended test drives puts it in good stead for the bold future of the industry as we see it.
Are you bold enough to buy your car online? Does going to a shopping centre and bypassing your local dealer appeal?