Subaru NZ managing director Wally Dumper reckons the SUV Viziv-7 concept revealed at the Los Angeles motor show is the bee’s knees – but he doesn’t expect it here anytime soon.
“It’s a really appealing SUV and has the DNA makings of future models,” said Dumper. “But we won’t be seeing that car in New Zealand for a long time. It will be marketed in America first – America’s desperate to get more Subaru production.”
Subaru describes the Viziv-7 as a mid-sized SUV, but the concept is the largest car the Japanese company has ever produced. Its corporate executive vice-president Takeshi Tachimori told reporters at the LA show: “We know customers in this segment want a full-sized vehicle and the next three-row from Subaru will be the biggest Subaru vehicle ever.”
The concept car’s name comes from “Vision for Innovation”. To put its size into perspective, Viziv-7 is longer, taller but not as wide as the long-wheelbase Range Rover. It’s larger than the Toyota Land Cruiser. Tachimori described the car as “forward-looking, dependable, safe and capable”, hinting at the car’s off-road ability.
SUV/crossover sales worldwide are booming. In America, they have outstripped cars for the first time in history and now account for four out of every 10 sales. In July, start of the US summer, almost 200,000 Americans bought the Toyota RAV4; the same number bought the Honda CR-V. Just over 180,000 bought the Nissan X-Trail (badged Rogue in the US).
Ford in July sold 180,000 Escapes and 148,000 Explorers. Jeep sold 117,000 Grand Cherokees. Subaru sold 95,000 Foresters in July and 92,000 Outbacks. A bigger SUV like the Viziv-7 concept would give Subaru a player to compete with Explorer and Grand Cherokee, among others.
The production version of Viziv-7 for the US market will be built at Subaru’s plant in Indiana, where the Toyota Camry has been built since Toyota took a 16.5 per cent in Subaru parent Fiji Heavy Industries (FHI). Sharing assembly lines with Toyota has blunted Subaru production for the US, but that will change once Camry moves to a Toyota-only plant.
Dumper had hoped that extra production room post-Camry in Indiana might take the heat off round-the-clock schedules at the Subaru factory in Japan and free up models he wants for NZ. But he admits he’s whistling in the wind, that the American market comes first.
“The last I heard Subaru America wanted an extra 100,000 cars a year,” he said. “I know Subaru Australia wants tens of thousands more cars. In reality we want hundreds more cars for NZ … but they just can’t make them.
“The Viziv-7 excites me, from the point of view that it looks cool and will be good. But it doesn’t excite me because it means it’s going to be harder for me to get production. America has priority. I don’t imagine we will have a model like that (in NZ) for a long time.”