According to a new report by the IEE,an Institute of the Edison Foundation, there could be as many as 30 million electric vehicles on US roads by 2035. With this sobering fact in mind examiners of matters Subaru blink a little when they digest this company’s goals the principal of which is to increase global sales by 37% by 2016. Those of us accustomed to watching the odd battered British registered Impreza kitted out with gold magnesium alloys coursing through Wirral council estates with the issue boy racer at the helm might be forgiven for stepping back and breathing deeply.

The reality chez Subaru is of course miles from this stock image.Two wholly electric cars are currently under test, the G4e and the R1e.Truth to tell, green cars are at the heart of this planned global sales increase. The R1e, like the old rotary powered Citroens back then, has gone to be tested in bulk by an as yet unpublicised Japanese power company and we can assume that silence on this front spells happiness.Of course those R1e electric models have not gone to selected private Subaru faithful as did those old rotary Citroens. Power companies in Japan are ‘on-side’ already with this form of propulsion; the private buyer, however otherwise faithful to Subaru,can be assumed to be groping, sometimes literally, in the dark. To cast eyes over the list of electric cars available currently for sale in the UK market is not to see any Subaru. We see them as ‘likely to appear in the near future’.

So we need to keep in mind Subaru’s global sales aspiration and that IEE assessment. That is not to say that the current range on sale is too bad.We are told by car that Subaru has now overtaken Volkswagen in US sales. This may give pause to Toyota, Subaru majority shareholder, in its oft-expressed wish to stop Subaru production at its Indiana plant.Currently, a 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek , on regular petrol, emits 289 hrs of CO2 per mile. A manual 5-speed Impreza, according to figures supplied by the US Dept of Energy, emits 319 grs of CO2 over the same distance. Subaru is,in fact, far from asleep in the field of electric propulsion and things are going to look substantially different in the worldwide ranges once the electric bug grips Jo Public. After all,Subaru it was that received the top award from Japan’s Environment Minister for helping to prevent global warming and the parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries,was similarly commended for ‘global warming prevention activity’ in 2006.

We cannot say, therefore, that Subaru has in any way slept on the job.The electric R1e began life in 2005 fitting ideally into the Japanese Kei car bracket, equipped famously with the ‘new issue’ lithium-ion batteries which conferred on the vehicle much-needed extra range. The single battery thus configured could be recharged to about 80% of its capacity in a mere 15 minutes. Ten prototypes went off to that Japanese utility provider at which point all at Subaru went off to scratch their collective heads. Like the rest of us, they weighed up the pros and cons. There had always been an environmental question mark hanging over ‘total electric’. It had not escaped corporate notice that the bulk of customers were, and still are, happier with a hybrid vehicle with a standby electric motor than they were with ‘electric only’.It was also true that ‘ELECTRIC ONLY’ did not really attract the wholesale approbation of the Green Movement anyway. Electric is not truly emission free because it depends on energy produced from non-renewable sources. And the figures for the R1e were hardly a ‘wow: top speed at a mere 100 kph with a 50 mile range for 8 hours of charging time. Granted there was a claimed battery life of 124,000 miles and in UK at least neither Vehicle Excise Duty nor London Congestion Charge.So the toe has already been dipped, albeit gingerly, into the water.

Let us examine the Subaru record. From this we can extrapolate how things are likely to be going in the next decade or so. Subaru was one of the first manufacturers to introduce Partial Zero Emissions (PZEV) in the USA.There were certified versions of Legacy, Outback, and Forrester as long ago as 2006 and that same year saw the dawn of the Stella plug-in electric car with its lithium-ion battery pack. We should not discount the value for money Subaru ethos in all this either. That Stella was put on the US market for an accessible sum in 2009.Now,the G4e possesses a lithium-ion battery which can store 2 or 3 times more lithium ions than conventional batteries and it even looks good too.

Despite that annoying list of ‘green cars currently for sale in UK’ Subaru is clearly in the vanguard of this development. Green themes are however expensive and, as is frequently pointed out, Subaru is a comparative minnow. There lies the link with our initial theme – Toyota as majority shareholder. There is a case for saying that further Subaru developments in this tense, and intense,technical area, will forever depend on what that majority shareholder is up to. So what exactly is that? Well Toyota is currently studying Tesla with interest with a view to joint development of total electric but is still stuck with those consumer polls which confirm that the consumer prefers a hybrid.If Toyota eventually clears out of the Indiana plant this will leave Subaru in a weakened market position. If it doesn’t,then Subaru’s opportunities for side-by-side developmental ‘poaching’,referred to in polite society as cross-fertilisation, are enhanced.
So how does the Subaru school report really look? Subaru’s record in this area of propulsion choices discloses a number of pluses and confirms that advances will be made in the future.This manufacturer, the regular mass producer of the boxer motor has always proved agile. How innovative it can still be in alternative propulsion may yet depend on the outcome of Toyota’s wooing of Tesla – and whether yet again Subaru can stick around as bridesmaid at the electric ball….

Invaluable assistance on this auto research piece obtained from The GreenCar and from the bulletins from the US Dept of Energy.


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