A couple of years ago a Subaru insider told me that the Boxer diesel would never make a profit for the company, because sales in Europe could never payback the investment.
I double-checked this at a drive event last year and factory reps confirmed it. No wonder Subaru’s fortunes are so contrasting on both sides of the Atlantic at the moment.
It seems Americans and Canadians can’t get enough petrol-engined Legacies and Foresters, which are great alternatives to V8-powered body-on-frame trucks.
Brits, meanwhile, used to a huge variety of 40mpg to 50mpg diesel-powered hatches and SUVs, and starved of the Impreza diesel, are steering clear of the models that are hot in the US.
In February, Subaru doubled its North American sales of the Forester and recorded a four per cent sales rise against an industry average drop of 39 per cent. In fact, February’s near-6000 tally of Foresters was bigger than rival Mitsubishi’s total for all its models in the US.
The UK position is the reverse, despite an attractive diesel Forester model. Year-to-date sales have collapsed 54 per cent in a market down 28 per cent. Just 184 cars have been registered in two months.
Much of this reverse must be put down to the incredible decision to cancel the diesel-powered Impreza last year. Too costly to import they said.
With basics like this going wrong, Subaru doesn’t need identity problems stemming from the blunting of its rally image and four-wheel drive technology, now being marginalised by the credit crunch and increased focus on fuel economy.
A city analyst report I’ve seen forecasts Subaru’s production drop by 13 per cent this year for a loss of 74,000 units, equal to that predicted for Nissan, but nearly double what Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi will probably suffer.
No wonder Subaru is struggling.