Published on September 5, 2007
The new Impreza will change the whole image of the Subaru brand, turning it from a company that offers only niche products into a mass-market competitor, according to Glenn Tan, group CEO of Singaporean-based Motor Image Enterprises, which runs Subaru distributorships in seven Asian countries.
They are Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, China (including Hong Kong), Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Tan said the new Impreza would be introduced in Thailand in October and that the expected success was expected to prompt Motor Image Subaru, the local distributor, to appoint dealers in all major provinces in Thailand. The Impreza is well-known for its sporty characteristics, but the new model will be a little different and appeal to a wider range of customers, he said.
"The new Impreza is more aesthetic to the eye and is bigger and more luxurious than the outgoing model," he said. "In fact it will be competing against both Japanese and European compact cars effectively."
Another selling point for the Impreza to be sold in Thailand is that it will be fully imported from Japan. Tan says that there is always that difference between imported and locally assembled vehicles in terms of quality.
"It's not that Thailand does not assemble high-quality cars, but at the end of the day there is a difference between imported and locally assembled cars. According to customers' perception, when you pay a little bit more for imported cars you also get a little more quality."
The new Impreza has become a big hit for Subaru in Japan, where sales have quadrupled.
"It has been stealing away a good number of customers from the Honda Civic as well as the Mazda 3 in Japan, and the Impreza will turn around Subaru like the Civic turned around Honda and the Mazda 3 turned around Mazda."
In Thailand, the 1.5-litre version will be introduced along with the 2.5 WRX and the 2.0 WRX auto, Tan said.
"Even the Impreza 1.5 can easily compete against the Mazda 3 or Civic since it drives like a 1.8-litre car," he said.
Tan said pure Subaru enthusiasts might not like the trendy design of the new Impreza, "but after driving it they will instantly remember why they bought a Subaru in the first place. Actually it is more stylish as well as driving better than the old model."
Tan said Subaru had dedicated all its resources to developing the new Impreza "from the ground up", and the sales surge in Japan proves that they went in the right direction.
"In Japan the Impreza shares the same production facility as the Forester SUV [sport-utility vehicle], and we are using full capacity, he said.
That is why Subaru is considering assembling cars in Asean, although not the Impreza.
"For Asean we think that the Forester would be more suitable to assemble since it is an SUV."
He said the new Forester would get the same treatment as the Impreza in terms of styling and performance. "The design of the new Forester will be more acceptable to the general public. Subaru has learned that it cannot survive by just making cars that drive very well but lag others in terms of design, especially the interior. The B9 Tribeca SUV is a good example of how we are doing things now."
Motor Image will try to sell a total of 100 cars this year, with 20-30 units of the new Impreza.
"This year has not been a good year for the automobile market due to politics and the economy, but it was good for us, since we haven't got the Impreza yet and did not push. Others are also taking the same conservative approach, which is also good for us, but after the elections, people who have been holding back will be more confident about spending on a car, and we will have a new model then," he said.
In the past, Subaru dealers could not survive on the low sales figures of the niche products Subaru offers in Thailand, but next year, with the Impreza, there will be a need for dealers.
"Actually we wanted to appoint dealers this year, but the market situation was not good, so we postponed it till next year."
Despite the poor market the company invested Bt300 million in a new head office on Serithai Road, which includes a large servicing facility.
Next year, Motor Image plans to spend Bt50 million on marketing, double what it will use this year.
Apart from various versions of the Impreza, including a hatchback, it plans to introduce a diesel-powered Legacy mid-sized sedan, Tan said.
The Luxury LS 460 is a wonderfully comfaortable car fitted with all mod cons, althoough not necessarily the most fun vehicle to drive.