A rare misfire for Subaru with new Levorg wagon?

The Levorg, which gets its mouthful of a name from an amalgam of Legacy, Revolution and Touring, attempts to fill a gap created by the discontinuation of the Legacy wagon.

TOKYO -- Subaru, one of the hottest brands in the United States, may have chalked up a rare misfire with its newest nameplate -- a small wagon dubbed the Levorg.

And I’m not just talking about the car’s tortured nomenclature.

The direct-injection turbocharged sports tourer goes on sale in Japan in May.

But advance orders of the Levorg have missed the company’s goal -- a rarity in Japan, where carmakers love to ballyhoo advance-order tallies that habitually beat softball targets. Advance orders reached 11,000 units from January through March, short of the 13,000 predicted.

Subaru blamed the shortfall on record snowfall throughout Japan in February that kept shoppers home. It also cited an earlier-than-expected end to the nationwide buying binge that took place before the April 1 increase in Japan’s national sales tax.

Neither factor seemed to bother Japan’s other brands.

Overall sales of light vehicles and trucks surged 21 percent in the three month period, from a year before, as shoppers rushed to beat the sales tax buzzer. And virtually every Japanese brand, including Subaru, saw sales soar in the period. Meanwhile, Subaru’s U.S. sales rocketed 22 percent in the same period despite even worse winter weather there.

Indeed, Subaru even raised its target for advance orders to 13,000 units, from an initial target of 10,000, because the Japan market seemed so promising. That’s one reason Subaru is now saying it is satisfied with final tally: because it is at least above the original goal.

“It did not reach that number,” a spokeswoman said of the 13,000 figure. “But we actually see this result, 11,000 units, as landing above the original target.”

The Levorg, which gets its mouthful of a name from an amalgam of Legacy, Revolution and Touring, attempts to fill a gap created by the discontinuation of the Legacy wagon, which is sold in Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan.

Subaru is considering overseas sales but hasn’t made plans public. Japan’s Nikkei business daily says it aims to sell the Levorg in Europe next year and possibly Australia. It’s not expected to be sold in the United States.

The car, which is on the small side and not geared toward American tastes, is seen as a key link in Subaru’s plan to break its dependence on the U.S. market. The United States accounts for about 55 percent of the brand’s total global sales volume.

The Levorg is shorter and taller than the Legacy wagon. It offers turbocharged, direct-injection 1.6-liter or 2.0-liter engines. That compares with the 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter power plants offered in the Legacy, although the 2.5-liter is the only turbo gasoline option.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com -- Follow Hans on Twitter: @hansgreimel

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