How Subaru plans to stay competitive

TOKYO — Subaru is embarking on engineering, design and technology overhauls to keep the small-scale, niche brand competitive in a global industry in which high volumes matter like never before.

The first two changes will debut in the next-generation Impreza small car arriving in the second half of the year: a new modular platform Subaru says will improve safety and driving performance, and a new design language dubbed Dynamic X Solid to enliven the brand’s image.

After those moves, Subaru will roll out new automated-driving technologies beginning with a traffic-jam autopilot.

Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, president of Subaru-maker Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., said the new technologies and design language are pillars of his plan to boost global sales to 1.1 million vehicles in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021.

“We want to further extend Subaru’s strengths,” Yoshinaga said while unveiling the initiatives at Fuji Heavy’s headquarters here.Versatile, efficient
The new platform aims to cut costs while improving safety and dynamics. Executives repeatedly said they benchmarked top European brands and compared the new platform’s high-speed emergency evasive handling to that of German sports cars.

Dubbed the Subaru Global Platform, it will underpin all the brand’s nameplates. It can accommodate gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric drivetrains.

Subaru expects to save money because it will be possible to produce components for multiple models at any one factory. This will enable Subaru to shift production among factories in the U.S. and Japan quickly to adjust to changing demand.

Subaru can also focus its limited personnel and engineering resources on variations of one platform.

The new platform should be able to underpin Subaru vehicles through 2025 with regular improvements, executives said.

Subaru aims to channel savings into better performance, said Tetsuo Onuki, vice president of global engineering. The goal is a better product without raising sticker prices, he said.

Among the improvements:• Body rigidity improves 70 to 100 percent.

• Center of gravity is lowered for better handling.

• Collision impact absorption improves 40 percent.

• Noise and vibration is reduced 15 percent.

“Starting with the car coming out this year, we will advance to the next level, using the new Subaru Global Platform to provide Subaru with more safety and fun every year,” said Naoto Muto, executive vice president for global engineering.

More dynamic styling is part of the improvement.

The new looks were first explored in the Viziv 2 Concept in 2014 and fleshed out in the Viziv Future Concept crossover and Impreza Concept shown in October at the Tokyo Motor Show.

The design language beefs up the stance and body volume to imbue the cars with a more rugged, sporty aura. The front fascia is more chiseled; the fender flares are more muscular.Safety strategy
Subaru’s safety strategy also entails new autonomous driving targets based on the brand’s camera-based EyeSight system.

Next year, Subaru will introduce a new traffic-jam assist function that will allow the vehicle to start and stop automatically in slow traffic and steer automatically around curves.

Subaru’s current system requires the driver to re-engage acceleration manually once the vehicle has stopped. Existing technology does not feature automatic steering.

By 2020, Subaru said it will introduce a semiautonomous highway driving function. That system will enable automated lane changing and automated steering around curves, by combining radar sensors and GPS mapping with EyeSight.

Subaru is relying on the changes to stoke its surging sales for continued gains.

Subaru targets its eighth straight year of record sales and ninth year of growth in the U.S. in 2016. U.S. sales are expected to increase 5.5 percent to 615,000 vehicles