Attack of the Clones – The Small Subaru with an Identity Crisis
Customers in European Subaru showrooms could be excused for feeling a sense of déjà-vu when they catch a glimpse of the company’s new-for-2008 small car, the Justy.
This vehicle revives a venerable old name but is nothing more than a badge-engineered version of the three-year old Sirion hatchback from fellow Japanese company Daihatsu. Unlike previous generations of the Justy, it doesn’t even have four-wheel-drive to justify that Subaru logo on the grille.
The 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder, 99mph Justy sits uneasily with Subaru’s carefully crafted image of a maker of performance cars and capacious, capable load carriers. The single model offered, the 1.0R, shares its engine with the Sirion as well as the Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107. The sales pitch is unashamedly one of economy, pitching the car as being “built for today’s environmentally conscious world”.
Here in the UK, where the Justy has just gone on sale, new vehicles are now taxed according to their carbon dioxide emissions. The little Subaru fits into the second lowest taxable band, just above the one for zero-emissions vehicles like electric cars.
Adding a new, lower-priced model is a quick way to keep dealers happy with a few extra sales. Subaru has not exactly had rave reviews so far for the new Impreza, which has been dismissed by some as a bland-looking hatchback. However, I suspect that as WRX models and the inevitable facelift come on stream, sales of “proper” Subarus will eventually pick up.
Those people with long memories may recall the original Subaru Justy, first launched in 1984. This was a pleasant little hatchback which stood out from the crowd through its use of four-wheel-drive technology, making it popular in rural settings around the world. Two further, Europe-only generations of the Justy followed, being four-wheel-drive versions of two Suzukis made in Hungary – the original Swift and its successor, the Ignis.
My local Subaru retailer also sells Daihatsus as well so the Sirion and Justy will sit uneasily alongside each other in his dealership. Daihatsu had only a brief life in the North American market, but is still a niche player in Europe and is best known for its small cars. Its Sirion line-up is wider and includes more punchy 1.3-litre and 1.5 litre versions. They are capable, chunky and tough-looking small cars with an impressive reputation for reliability.
To complicate matters even further, a third company, Perodua of Malaysia, also sells its version of the same car under its own badge in the UK. Known as the Myvi, this has the1.3-litre engine as standard, a generous range of kit, and prices starting around £1700 ($3400) less than Subaru charges for the £8500 ($17,000) Justy. However, few people have heard of Perodua so sales are miniscule.
The common link is Toyota, which owns Daihatsu and has stakes in Perodua and more recently in Subaru, since GM sold out.
One of the more puzzling things about the whole episode is why Subaru feels the need to sell this clone through its European dealers. It isn’t as if it doesn’t have any small cars of its own. For the Japanese home market the company offers a range of interesting-looking little vehicles, notably the R1, R2, and Stella, all of which have proper Subaru genes. Surely some of these could be worth exporting?
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