TOKYO — Subaru will launch its first full-electric crossover as a new nameplate rather than a battery-powered variant of an existing model. The crucial question is how to differentiate that new Subaru from the Toyota version that will share its platform.
Will it be like the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 sporty coupe duo, their other joint project, which delivered nearly identical cars with only cosmetic tweaks to their exteriors and cabins?
Or will the vehicles get substantially different body designs to set them apart?
Kazuhiro Abe, Subaru's vice president for product planning, won't say at this point.
But speaking at last month's Tokyo Motor Show, he conceded the challenge of differentiating the products while pooling such efforts as engineering, purchasing and production.
"We should have different vehicles for different target users," he said of the upcoming crossover. "That is kind of a challenge: joint development, same platform, but different character."
Unique exterior designs are difficult because they require different engineering, crash-testing and stamping, Abe said. Different electric powertrain tuning, however, has higher potential.
"If we separate that way, the customer may feel that's a different feeling or a Subaru feeling," Abe said, adding that Subaru has a direct-control feeling. "There is a bunch of room for different characteristics in driving feeling, maybe even more than in an internal combustion vehicle."
The product planning chief also offered some specs on the upcoming EV crossover: It will be about the size of a Subaru Forester or Toyota RAV4. And although it will be sold in the U.S., it is being developed as a global vehicle.
The EV crossover also might be offered in a front-wheel-drive variant with one motor and an all-wheel-drive layout with two motors, Abe added.
Announced by the companies in June, the new crossover will go on sale in the first half of the 2020s, Abe said. Subaru and Toyota are cooperating on the underbody, frame, powertrain and motor, Abe said. The new platform will be flexible enough to underpin multiple vehicle types, including C-segment and D-segment sedans and crossovers.
But Abe didn't offer bold forecasts for booming EV demand anytime before the mid-2030s.
"I don't know when, but EV demand will expand sometime," Abe said. "We are thinking it will expand a lot. Maybe not in the early '30s, but maybe from the late '30s or '40s."