Why Isn’t Subaru Bringing Back the Hatchback...Yet
Hatchback Market Is Dwindling Hard, And It is A Massive Niche Risk For The Manufacturers Such As The Subaruby Safet Satara, on LISTEN 09:54
However you cut it, the only genuine hatchback within the Subaru line of cars was the third generation Subaru Impreza hatch. True, the company did make odd-shaped, wagon-like hatchbacks on top of the Impreza chassis since the very beginning in 1992, but none of them had that proper hatchback quality. It is the same story today. If you walk in a Subaru showroom, you can have an Impreza hatch that looks like a wagon. Alternatively, you can have an Outback - a five-door wagon, based on the Legacy, with raised suspension and body claddings. In short, the company has no hatch to fight the likes of the Golf, Focus, Fiesta, Polo, or Yaris, among others! Nevertheless, the question remains - can we expect the new Subaru hatch?
In the shortest of terms, not yet!
Subaru Will Produce A New Proper Hatch Only If You Start Buying Hatchbacks Again
The economy and the mathematics about the creation of an all-new car is as complex as the Aeternitas mega 4 watch (fyi, one of the most complex pieces of machinery ever built). Subaru has it even tougher compared to some, let’s say, more established manufacturers with far higher budgets. Thus, every new car that comes from Subaru will, undebatably, first pass through a maze of economic analysts, marketing gurus, and risk analysts.
This complex maze tends to reveal market conditions, and they do not favor hatchbacks. Market conditions prefer SUVs.
For the past year or so, manufacturers have adapted their product lineup to suit the tastes of U.S. car buyers. In that regard, Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota, and others dramatically reshaped their offerings. For example, Ford ultimately canceled the Focus hatch for the U.S., and it even canceled its Active variant due to the tariffs President Trump imposed on the products imported from China. On the other hand, Volkswagen will limit its new Golf offerings to the GTI and the R models, while Toyota rebadged its Auris and now sells it as a Corolla hatch.
All this tells us that the hatchback is a dying breed among U.S. buyers. Not even BMW, who does shoot sky high with its prices, will be offering its new, wholly redesigned 1 Series, in the U.S.
Such unfavorable market conditions for hatchbacks do not suit Subaru!
To find the real reason for such a dramatic shift in buyers’ culture, we have to go as far back as 2009 and its economic crisis. Just before it, buyers were somewhat pampered, felt confident, and bought cars for emotional reasons - this usually equates to three-door cars. All major manufacturers produced three-door versions of hatchbacks! Then, the economy hit hard! Only a few years after, market analysts saw a dramatic decline with the purchase of the three-door hatches and three-door city cars. Cool and fun lost to practical and convenient.
Felipe Munoz, global automotive analyst at Jato Dynamics said:
"As the financial crisis hit, consumer priorities changed. Since then, the market share of small and compact three-door cars posted a shocking decline from 2,45 million units in 2009 to 961 000 units in 2016," he wrote.
While the Europeans lost three-door hatchbacks, and more or less, the sedans, we in the U.S. lost hatchbacks altogether. In favor of SUVs, of course.
Munoz added, "Much has been said and written about the SUV boom and its importance to the automotive sector’s growth, but there is another overriding trend of recent years – the financial crisis and its impact is forcing drivers to think more rationally about body-type when purchasing a car."
This is the primary problem Subaru faces with the development of the all-new hatchback. The company is, in the simplest of terms, afraid that buyers will not buy it in enough quantities to justify its development.
Moreover, I do not blame them - would you rather have an Impreza hatch with a 1.5-liter, sized as a Golf, or an XV Crosstrek?
See! The problem is that you would not!
How Does an Automaker Decide To or Not To Build A Car?
Actually, this process is devoid of any emotion, impulsiveness, and subjectivity. So, imagine yourself as a decision maker within Subaru. You are sitting at the top of the table, like Tyrion in the final moments of the GOT, and all the geeks - economic analysts, risk assessment team leader, financial advisors, marketing experts, and engineers are filling you with the information they have collected on the feasibility of the production of a new Subaru hatchback.
It would go something like this:
- The economic analyst would tell you how much money you can invest in the development of the new hatchback
- A financial advisor would limit those resources
- risk assessment team leader will tell you that the development of the all-new hatch could bankrupt the company while marketing expert will tell you that you should develop a new SUV instead.
However, apart from the dwindling sales of hatchbacks, you, as a Subaru decision maker in this context, have yet another problem on your hands. The engineer in this little setup I just painted would tell you this:
"We use a boxer engine, and the boxer configuration is not suitable for B-segment."
These are the words Mr. Tomohiro Ishitobi, Senior Manager of Overseas Sales and Marketing Division 2 at Subaru Corporation, said a few months ago. It is the truth - the boxer engines cannot easily fit under the hood of the small cars. All the money for the development would pour into that bracket of research, and it just does not make any sense. That is why the Subaru B segment vehicle is unlikely.
So, the only thing you can do is challenge the tradition, give up the boxer engine, and probably symmetrical all-wheel drive to produce a financially feasible B segment car. Do you have any incentive to do so?
Subaru’s Re-Entry into WRC Could Be the Path to a New Subie Hatch
History showed that when Subaru exited the WRC in 2008, this did not go well in the mind of European buyers. Subaru calculated that the decision to exit the WRC did hurt sales in the long run. Considerably so! That’s why we have some rumors about Subaru’s return to the WRC next year!
However, I wonder, with what?
To enter the WRC competition, Subaru would have to have a production B Segment car. It needs to produce at least 2,500 of them each year to qualify. Right now, Subaru does not have anything in its arsenal to support that entry. Some reports from Japan that did find its mary way to the Internet late last year proposed that Subaru is working on a B segment WRC car. One with a horizontally opposed flat engine. It should fight its fight with the Yaris WRC, Fiesta WRC, i20 Coupe WRC, and the C3 WRC.
"[Toyota boss] Akio Toyoda is pushing them [Subaru] very hard to join the series to race against Toyota," Autosport rally editor David Evans added to fuel the rumors.
Nevertheless, the spy photographers never saw the prototype, Subaru was extremely tight-lipped about the whole endeavor, and if we peek inside the Subaru manufacturing facility, there is nothing that points us in the direction of the new B-segment hatch.
Big thing withingSubaru right now is the Subaru Global Platform - a modular architecture that underpins almost every car it builds. However, it cannot support the tiny B segment hatch! Considering the lack of tech and any proof that Subaru is developing the B-segment car, I doubt that this will happen!
What can we expect then?
What Does the Stunning Subaru VIZIV Performance Concept Tell Us?
Subaru VIZIV Performance Concept tells us that the Subaru is working long and hard on the development of the new WRX. However, this may not be the same WRX you and I are accustomed to. First of all, it is a car based on the Subaru Global Platform, second of all, it will likely employ a form of hybrid propulsion, and third of all, it could sport some kind of a hatchback.
Apart from the "standard" VIZIV Performance Concept, Subaru unveiled the Viziv Performance STI, and the Viziv Tourer Concept. Both of them take all the critical physical attributes from the Performance Concept. While the Performance STI showcases the high-end sporty version, the Viziv Tourer Concept may represent the future Subaru performance Wagon option.
Nevertheless, the hybrid option in the new WRX STI is likely.
Subaru Europe’s sales and marketing manager, David Dello Stritto, has told Dutch website AutoRAI that the turbocharged boxer four-pot “can simply not exist in the future.”
“Subaru is waiting for market developments and has set the concept down. We definitely do not say goodbye to the WRX STI; the car belongs to Subaru, but there is a period of time where we temporarily will not carry it. Hybrid drivetrains are something we need to investigate. There really will be a new WRX STI, but it takes time,” he added.
It may be that the Viziv Tourer Concept accept the tech and eschew a whole new era for the Subaru hatchbacks. An age not all will like. The hybrid system, whatever it may be, will consist of the hardware developed together by Subaru, Toyota, Mazda, and Denso.
It is not likely that we will see a standard hatchback within the Subaru product lineup any time soon. New tourers, hybrid WRX STIs, and more crossovers are a game within the Subaru, but it seems that the market does not prefer the hatchbacks yet. In five years? Maybe!
Read our full review on the 2017 Subaru Viziv Performance Concept.
Read our full speculative review on the 2020 Subaru WRX.
Read our full speculative review on the 2021 Subaru Hot-Hatchback