When Don Beardon talks about the re-engineering job on the 2005 Subaru Legacy Outback, he tends to make one small technical mistake.
"It's a completely different car," says Beardon, director of government affairs for Subaru of America Inc.
He is still calling the '05 Outback a "car." But, technically, that's no longer true.
Thanks to the engineering changes undertaken on the project, the Outback will be classified as a truck for U.S. regulatory purposes.
Beardon's conversational slip-up is to be forgiven for Subaru managers. The sales and marketing unit of Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. is not accustomed to thinking of itself as a truck manufacturer. Its low-selling pickup version of Subaru's Legacy sedan, the Baja, was classified as a truck a year ago. And this month at the Chicago Auto Show, the company introduced a redesigned Legacy Outback that also will receive a truck classification, even though it was spawned by the Legacy sedan.
In an era when auto manufacturers are blurring all recognized lines between vehicle segments, calling a model a car or a truck or a sport wagon or a "crossover" has almost become meaningless.
But for Subaru, the change in the Outback's legal classification required more than a rewording of marketing materials. It required a number of engineering changes keyed to federal regulations. Those changes in turn triggered a list of other body re-engineering chores.