Better watch your backs, GM and Volkswagen: Subaru is making inroads in the arena of electric cars. The company is working on its first plug-in vehicle, with a plug-in hybrid planned for 2019 and a battery-electric model after that.
In an interview published earlier this year in Bloomberg, the company’s CEO, Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, said it’s going to develop all-electric versions of existing models rather than create new vehicle lines for the new powertrains. Subaru makes about 1 million vehicles a year, whereas GM sells close to 10 million. This makes a difference in the electric-cars area, since research and development costs can be incredibly high.
Adapting existing models to battery power makes practical sense, according to Yoshinaga. “Providing the choice of an electric vehicle,” he said, “means the customer can still desire the same Subaru.” He gave the example of a Subaru buyer in Beijing who might want the company’s very popular Crosstrek (sold outside North America as the Subaru XV). If that customer is required by Chinese regulations to buy an electric car, Yoshinaga said, “if there’s no electric version, then he can’t buy it. Providing the choice of an EV means the customer can still desire the same Subaru.”
The tactic also allows the Japanese carmaker to ditch the high cost of establishing new models, which requires tons of promotion and exorbitant marketing costs. In order to afford the research and development required to launch a fully electric car, the company is downplaying its efforts in autonomous, self-driving cars and connected vehicles. Currently, Subaru has budgeted $1.2 billion for R&D through March 2018.
Yoshinaga says decisions about the suppliers for the battery and electric motors will be made within the year. He mentioned Panasonic Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. are being discussed as possible partners.
The car industry’s heavy hitters continue to make serious strides in the development of electric cars.