Friday, June 24, 2016

Why there's no Levorg in the US

Every now and then someone see's a picture of the "new WRX hatchback" and goes crazy in the hopes that the Hatch has made it's triumphant return.  It ends up being either a photoshopped WRX STI or a picture of the US-soil-avoiding Subaru Levorg.  Most fans in America don't know much about this Impreza-based wagon with a turbo, so it's easy to assume that it's headed for a dealership near you.  However, the Levorg is not destined to reach our shores.

First, a few interesting things most people don't know about the Levorg... mostly because they probably didn't know it existed in the first place!  This car is actually longer than the current Hatchback offering for the 4th generation Impreza.  That means the Levorg is more of a traditional station wagon than a shorter hatchback like the WRXs offered before they switched to a sedan-only platform (the last year for a WRX hatchback was 2014).  Each Levorg comes standard with a Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission and have either a 1.6 liter or 2.0 liter flat-four turbocharged Subaru boxer engine.  Currently, the Levorg is only offered in Japan, Europe, and Australia. 

The main question most ask once they learn of the Levorg is why this car isn't offered in the United States, and there's a couple of reasons for that.  The first is in the cultural taboo of what this car is classified as: a Station Wagon.  For the same reason you go to the organic sustainable produce aisle at the grocery store, not the "Fresh Fruit" aisle, American consumers like the name "Crossover" more than the "Station Wagons" they loved before... but the Levorg would be hard pressed to be pitched as such.  The Outback and Forester have thrived in the Crossover segment of the US and both of these lines lead Subaru sales in the US.  However, the Forester reigns supreme thanks to it's boxier SUV-ish looks where the Outback can still give the appearance of a Station Wagon.  Subaru's very own Legacy wagon was discontinued after 2009 due to falling sales and an increase in interest with the Outback, further strengthening the idea that Americans like Crossovers instead of Station Wagons. 

As much as enthusiasts would swear that a wagon would do well here, Japanese brands in general have not seen much interest in this area.  The Camry, the Accord, and other Japanese sedans used to be offered with a wagon option but have since dropped those offerings over the years.  However, it seems the people buying wagons in the US are European-minded and tend to go for Audi, Volkswagen, and BMW instead.  Add in the fact that the Levorg fell short in the initial sales goals when it was launched in Japan and there's not much of a pull for Subaru to risk a blunder in their largest market.

This also technically hampers any hopes for a WRX Hatchback making a return anytime soon, as the Levorg fills that absence for those still looking for a sporty wagon in the other markets.  In fact, the US buyer has further written out the WRX Hatchback... or a Levorg even just by the sales numbers.  Subaru sold more 2015 WRX and WRX STI sedans than they sold 2014 WRX and WRX STI sedans and hatchbacks combined.  That sends Subaru a message that the hatchback isn't as important to our market, driving the nail in the coffin for those hopes even more. 

Add in the fact that the mere name of the car might not appeal to US buyers (LEgacy, reVOlution, touRinG is supposed to be how they named it) and the deck is stacked against it.  Would I buy one if they made it available?  Absolutely!  Would a handful of enthusiasts and loyal WRX Hatchback owners pick one up?  You bet!  But Subaru wouldn't bring it over just for those reasons alone.  I'd be tickled Cherry Blossom red if I were proven wrong, but the market isn't favorable in the US for the Levorg to succeed like it should. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Boxers @ Baxter 2016

As an enthusiast who happens to work at a Subaru dealership, I do my best to connect our store with fellow owners in the area by hosting events here for them to enjoy.  Last year Baxter Subaru let me throw the LARGEST Subaru event Nebraska has ever seen... and it was a ton of fun!  The community was just as ecstatic about it so naturally, we had to throw another one!

This year I made sure to make the event bigger and better than before, and the best way to do that was to invite Subaru Rally Team USA to join us!  Vermont SportsCar, through a partnership with Subaru of America, is bringing their Rally Display Trailer and a rally-prepped WRX STI for fans to check out at this event!  It's so great to finally bring rally to Nebraska as many fans only get to watch YouTube videos and scroll through photos.  We're bringing rally a little closer with a Super Production WRX STI on-hand for fans to see, touch, and even take a seat in!

Like last year's event, Baxter Subaru will be providing free food, drinks, prizes, and hosting the car show right on the lot.  Space will be cleared for owners to line their Subarus up and show off their cars.  From street machines to off-road crawlers to rally-prepped dirt slingers to rare vintage cars, there's always a great mix of cars representing the wide variety of ways that owners choose to enjoy their Subarus.

So if you're in the Omaha area and want to jump in on the fun, meet your fellow Subaru owners at Baxter Subaru at 6pm on Saturday, July 9th!  It's gonna be a great event so hopefully we'll see you there!

Boxers @ Baxter Facebook Link

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

No PPIHC for Subaru this year

Earlier this year I reported that Subaru Rally Team USA would slingshot David Higgins up Pikes Peak in his WRX STI for the 2016 event.  As the event date neared, I noticed that name disappeared from the list, so I did some digging to find some answers.

According to David, the team had signed up earlier to meet the deadline for registration.  However, with a busy Rally America National Championship schedule ahead, the Rally China event in early June, and increased focus on development of their GRC program, SRT USA and Vermont SportsCar would have a difficult time preparing for the hill climb event in Colorado.  In order to participate, the team would've needed to skip some of the Rally America events instead.

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb celebrates it's 100th Anniversary race for 2016.  SRT USA just wrapped up two rallies last week and is preparing for the New England Forests Rally in July.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Excitement on Hold - BRZ Series.Yellow

This past weekend saw the largest gathering of Subaru Enthusiasts in the United States in Stafford Springs, CT.  The "Wicked Big Meet" isn't just a car show for the New England area Subaru owners, but also a huge opportunity to showcase rare and historical cars from Subaru.  Colin McRae's WRC-prepared Impreza, the Iconic Impreza 22B, and something new for Subaru fans.  Last year it was the Series.HyperBlue WRX STI and BRZ.  This year, Subaru has the Series.Yellow BRZ for the new 2017 redesign. 

While this new exclusive color on a track-ready BRZ is exciting, fans will have to wait to get their hands on it.  Limited to 500 Units (an average of less than 1 per dealer), this yellow-clad tire slayer won't be available until next spring.  Currently the production, allocation and pricing plans are still being ironed out for the Series.Yellow BRZ by Subaru of America.  I had expected the release time to be similar to the 4-month time frame that the Series.HyperBlue models received last year.  However, retailer delivery for the Series.Yellow is expected in March 2017... by which time the new 2017 model will be nearing the end of it's run anyways.  A 10-month wait will truly test the patience of fans seeking this rare color.  Or, if you're too impatient to wait for a Yellow BRZ, Toyota already built one for you two years ago.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Rallycross Tire Longevity - a lesson in sharing

I love rally.  Stage Rally, Rally Sprint, Rallycross, it's all awesome.  So, when I have the opportunity to let others experience how awesome it can be, I'm all over it!  I've been sharing the wheel with veterans and newbies alike in my 2000 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS Coupe that I've been working on for almost 3 years now and they all seem to love it.  However, sharing the wheel has taken a noticeable toll on my once-new super-soft compound rallycross tires.

I picked up these meaty mud tires from Rally.Build last fall and fielded them on my rallycross car in November.  Since then, I've attended 6 events, which doesn't seem like much.  However, at each event I have had either a veteran co-driver showing me how to be better or a novice driver that I've been instructing myself.  At each rallycross event with the NRSCCA, cars get 8-10 runs through the day (depending on how much time we have).  So, at each event, the car has seen anywhere from 16-20 runs.  One of those events also included a rallycross school where we tacked on another 15 runs of testing.  If we add it all up, that equates to about 70 laps covered so far.

Those laps are taking a toll on this soft compound retread tire. These are Indy Sport SG Rallycross / Mud Tires that excel in wet and loose conditions. Grass, mud, and loose gravel bow to their bite... which is perfect for the conditions usually found at the site where we race.  They are only available in a soft compound to ensure grip from the start and greater performance in rallycross, but after all those laps, the tires are getting incredibly worn. 

Now I need to figure out how much more life I can get out of these tires.  Long-term plans for Rallycross need to be considered if I keep running tires like these.  I need to determine if the shorter lifespan of these softer compound tires are worth the cost of replacing on a much more frequent schedule than I anticipated.  I may try out a different set with a harder compound later this season and see if my times suffer enough to warrant destroying more of these Indy Sport SG tires.