Subaru’s aim: rally the troops
AFTER a decade on the sidelines, Subaru is considering a return to motorsport in Australia to polish its image.
The all-wheel drive brand was unbeaten for 10 straight years in the Australian Rally Championship before walking away from competition and there are strong signs that it intends to return.
The most obvious indicator is the arrival of 10 special STI pocket rockets (pictured) that can’t be registered for road use.
“We’ve been thinking for a long time about a new motorsport program,” says Subaru Australia CEO Nick Senior. “We get a lot of people wanting to see the blue cars in their warpaint.”
The brand, a smaller player in the highly competitive local showroom, needs to have a significant point of difference. It achieved that via its Impreza WRX rally program with champion drivers, Cody Crocker and the late Possum Bourne.
That success is still reflected in an overwhelming buyer preference for WRC Blue paintwork on the current WRX, STI and BRZ sports models.
Subaru is also working hard on its showroom contenders after going backwards through the global financial crisis. It wound back quality and held off investing in new products, although that has changed with the arrival of the latest Liberty and Outback.
“Motorsport is one of those interesting ones because it’s hard to measure,” says Senior. “But it’s probably not until you pull out that you realise just how important it has been to Subaru. Not only in Australia but globally. Our staff miss it. The dealers miss it.”
Most importantly, he says, customers have “a lot of ownership”.
Subaru also pulled out of the World Rally Championship during the economic downturn but it is showing signs of renewed interest.
The latest limited-edition STI is $38,000, although that’s just the starting point because they must have a rollcage fitted before they can compete.
The price is $11,000 less than the equivalent road-going Impreza but full competition fitout would easily add $50,000.
The STI competition cars are the latest chapter in a motorsport story that goes back to 1984, when Senior was responsible for importing a few rally-only RX cars. They were followed by the Liberty RA RS and 25 cars for the Impreza RS one-make rally series.
The payback was substantial. Barry Lowe won two titles in an RX and Rob Herridge won in a Liberty, before Subaru Australia began its full factory involvement through Bourne.
Senior says one of the STI cars has gone to a New Zealand buyer and another is being set up for promotional work at dealerships and events in Australia. Rally team boss Les Walkden has taken two to his Tasmanian base.
“We have six that are still for sale. I’d like to see them competing anywhere,” he says.
He won’t confirm an official comeback by Subaru Australia. “It’s my responsibility, because motorsport is costly, to get the right return on any investment. We’ll keep looking at it.”