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.”