Subaru embarks on STI push with NY performance concept

Subaru embarks on STI push with NY performance concept

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TOKYO — Subaru took the wraps off its STI Performance Concept today at the New York auto show, previewing the brand’s expanding focus on tuner parts and performance editions.

The concept, based loosely on the body of the Subaru BRZ sporty coupe, encapsulates both Subaru Tecnica International’s parts and motorsports activities.

On the parts side, the car is decked out in STI carbon-fiber aerodynamic components including a rear spoiler. It also gets STI-tuned chassis, body and air intake-exhaust systems.

Under the hood, it showcases the engine Subaru deploys in Japan’s Super GT racing circuit: a horizontally opposed 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, double-overhead-camshaft, 16-valve turbocharged unit, generating 345 hp. Even though the concept is a turbo, Subaru says it has no plans for a turbo BRZ production model.

‘Raising the profile’

But what the concept does foreshadow is an STI edition of the BRZ sporty coupe for America in a “couple years,” Subaru said.

“It’s a way of demonstrating the abilities of the STI business,” Subaru spokesman Michael McHale said. “Raising the profile of STI can only mean good things.”

The exact branding of this vehicle and its specs haven’t been decided, but it may be billed as a BRZ “tuned by STI.”

STI has been around since 1988. But Subaru now aims to step up marketing of its offerings to build performance cred as part of parent company Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.’s 2020 business goal of enhancing overall brand value.

Subaru’s STI business has three pillars: Complete cars, performance parts and motorsports. STI editions usually get some combination of special chassis tuning, responsive steering, heavy-duty brakes, bigger wheels, aero kits and pipped engines. In Japan, the automaker’s STI division has 70 dedicated engineers.

STI around the globe

The United States is the biggest market for complete STI vehicles. But only an STI version of the WRX is offered.

Subaru sold 6,500 WRX STIs in the U.S. in 2014.

While Japan sells fewer STI editions, it has dabbled in a far wider array of nameplates. There, Subaru also has sold STI editions of the Legacy sedan, Forester crossover and the BRZ. It also has offered a “tuned by” version of the Exiga minivan.

Most were sold in limited-edition batches of around 300 units.

Outside Japan, Subaru has given STI treatment mostly to the WRX, although Australia also got a Forester tS tuned by STI.

To strengthen the global branding of STI, the company also plans to phase out the SPT, Subaru Performance Tuning, line of performance parts in America. It will be rechristened as STI.

Higher prices

Higher STI sales could boost dealer earnings.

In the U.S., for example, the standard WRX starts at $27,090 including shipping. The WRX STI starts at $35,290.

Any incremental vehicle volume is icing on the cake for a brand expecting its seventh-straight year of record U.S. sales.

The red-hot all-wheel-drive specialist said in January that U.S. sales should grow 5 percent to 540,000 vehicles in 2015, from 513,693 in 2014. The pace of expansion will moderate from the breakneck 21 percent jump seen last year.

But it still propels Subaru to within striking range of its North American goal for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021. Subaru aims to sell 600,000 vehicles in the U.S. and Canada that year. It targets 585,000 for the region this year alone.

Racing heritage

In 1989, a first-generation Subaru Legacy, tuned by STI, broke the FIA-certified world speed record over 100,000 kilometers (62,137 miles), Subaru said in a release. STI then moved to the World Rally Championship, winning three constructors championships and three driver championships.

It currently competes in the Nurburgring 24 Hour Challenge race, where it won its class in 2011 and 2012.

In Japan, STI cars compete in the Super GT series.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. — Follow Hans on Twitter

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