Earthquake delays Subaru's 2012 models
Redone Impreza will be scarce until December
The March earthquake in Japan has forced Subaru to delay the launch of its redesigned Impreza compact and the rest of its 2012 models for two months.
The Impreza will go on sale in November instead of September, but dealerships aren't likely to have sufficient inventory until December, said Takeshi Tachimori, Subaru's new top executive in the United States.
The new Impreza is key to Subaru's aim to increase U.S. sales more than 30 percent to 350,000 units within five years. In addition, Subaru will add a hybrid, a compact crossover and a sports coupe within three years, said Tachimori, 56, who became CEO of Subaru of America in April.
The 2012 Impreza has been redesigned, primarily to meet U.S. customer demand for more interior room and better fuel economy, Tachimori said. He wants to double sales of the model from the current 2,500 to 3,000 per month. Impreza sales peaked at about 49,000 in 2008.
Subaru is delaying the introduction of 2012 models until October because it lost 40,000 units of production for the U.S. market. The 2012 models normally would begin arriving this month, Tachimori said.
Takeshi Tachimori: The earthquake killed hopes for a record year.
Despite the delays and the current tight 27-day supply of vehicles, he said he expects 2011 U.S. sales to be the second-best in the company's history. Before the March 11 earthquake struck Japan, Subaru predicted it would beat its U.S. sales record of 263,820 vehicles set last year. Subaru sold 132,049 vehicles through June, up 5 percent over the same period last year.
Subaru outperformed the U.S. market during the recession. It was one of only two brands to report a sales gain in 2008 and one of three to achieve a sales increase in 2009, along with Kia and Hyundai.
Tachimori said production was slowed because of a shortage of parts needed for the Outback crossover, Legacy sedan and Tribeca SUV built at Subaru's Lafayette, Ind., plant and the Impreza and Forester crossover produced in Japan.
The biggest problem is the shortage of the semiconductor chips for engine control and airbag control units Tachimori said.
Tachimori wouldn't forecast 2012 volume but said he expects sales to rise thanks to the redesigned Impreza, higher sales of the Legacy sedan, and the launch next spring of the four-seat sports car Subaru is developing jointly with Toyota.
The sports car will be rear-drive with a Subaru drivetrain and will be positioned between the Impreza and Legacy, Tachimori said. The base 2011 Impreza is priced at $18,220, including freight, and the Legacy starts at $20,220.
In 2013, Subaru will offer its first hybrid in the United States. Tachimori said that vehicle will be small "because customers for the hybrid market want fuel economy and fuel efficiency."
Subaru also plans to bring a compact crossover to the United States within three years that will be based on the XV concept that debuted at the Shanghai auto show in April.
Subaru is still pondering the fate of the Tribeca SUV built in Indiana. Only 1,274 were sold through June, and Subaru is not currently working on a redesign, Tachimori said.
"It is a hard job for us to sell that vehicle at over $30,000," he said. "We will keep on selling the current model until we cannot. There is no time line."
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