Subaru is one of the few car companies that have managed to make lemonade out of the recessionary lemons that were dealt to the majority of the auto industry over the course of the past two years. Given the fact that the brand has seen not only record sales numbers but also a serious gain in market share when compared to just a year ago, it would seem almost foolish for the brand to consider making any significant changes to its vehicle designs or corporate image - and yet that is exactly what Subaru intends to accomplish.
In a recent report published by the Automotive News Subaru's general manager of the design department, Osamu Namba, explained his vow to take the brand's utilitarian styling cues in an entirely new direction. Whereas for most of its history the company allowed form to follow function with regards to both interior and exterior designs, Namba has seen the future of the rapidly rising automaker and decided that it includes far more emphasis given to the beauty and vitality of each vehicle. Specifically, Namba wants to add a more 'contemporary element' to the company's offerings, which he hopes will in turn increase Subaru's appeal to reach more than just its core group of loyal buyers.
By focusing on engineering and performance first for the past several decades, Subaru has still managed to build an impressive following, especially in regions of the country which rely on the company's exceptional all-wheel drive systems (such as the American Northeast). In fact, Subaru's sales are 35 percent higher than just one year ago, despite 2009's record high of 216,652 vehicles sold by the company in the U.S. Namba is convinced that once Subaru directs the same level of intensity and development towards the styling of its automobiles it will be able to extend this recent success to ever increasing heights. This attitude is shared by Subaru's network of dealers in the United States, who have long called for sheet metal and interiors which better reflect the same design prowess demonstrated by their close competitors.
Subaru must balance Namba's desire for bolder, more recognizable styling in its vehicles with the need to maintain the positive relationship that it has built with its current customer base. In addition to its impressive sales figures, Subaru has been able to court buyers who are upwardly mobile (with an average household income of $88,000), more than a third of whom pay cash for their new cars. This strong demographic identifies with Subaru's utility-first image and also appreciates the brand's emphasis on low-cost, high return designs, as evidenced by the fact that the company's recent decision to lowering MSRPs has allowed them to spend less than any other competitor on vehicle incentives. It may seem counter-intuitive to some automakers to offer a frugal automobile to a well-heeled group of buyers, but to Subaru it has become the company's bread and butter.
Osamu Namba's first new vehicle design will be the upcoming Subaru Impreza refresh. Although no date has been set yet for the revamped compact car, the current edition of Subaru's entry-level option was unveiled all the way back in 2007, which means that it shouldn't be too long before an update hits the streets. Namba plans to move away from the current rounded look of the Impreza and instead embrace a 'stronger' design that will give the vehicle more presence and which will also bring it more in line with the styling language used by its larger Subaru Legacy and Subaru Outback stable mates. The Impreza could also potentially grow in size in order to better accommodate the desires of American buyers, a fate that befell the latest redesigns of the Legacy and Outback. The brand will be wary of turning out an Impreza that wanders too far off of the beaten path in terms of buyer expectations, as the memory of the original Subaru Tribeca design and its tepid reception amongst Subaru loyalists is still fresh in the company's memory. That being said, the days of Subaru's somewhat muddled design language would appear to be over, with a new, more cohesive generation of automobiles poised to be unleashed upon new car buyers.