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To Avoid Fuel Limits, Subaru Is Turning a Sedan Into a Truck

By DANNY HAKIM
Published: January 13, 2004

DETROIT, Jan. 12 — The Subaru Outback sedan looks like any other midsize car, with a trunk and comfortable seating for four adults.

But Subaru is tweaking some parts of the Outback sedan and wagon this year to meet the specifications of a light truck, the same regulatory category used by pickups and sport utilities. Why? Largely to avoid tougher fuel economy and air pollution standards for cars.

It is the first time an automaker plans to make changes in a sedan — like raising its ground clearance by about an inch and a half — so it can qualify as a light truck. But it is hardly the first time an automaker has taken advantage of the nation's complex fuel regulations, which divide each manufacturer's annual vehicle fleet into two categories. Light trucks will have to average only 21.2 miles a gallon in the 2005 model year. By contrast, each automaker's full fleet of passenger cars must average 27.5 miles a gallon.

The move will let Subaru sell more vehicles with turbochargers, which pep up performance but hurt mileage and increase pollution. "It was difficult to achieve emissions performance with the turbos," said Fred D. Adcock, executive vice president of Subaru of America. They also made it hard to meet fleetwide fuel economy standards for cars.

Subaru's strategy highlights what environmentalists, consumer groups and some politicians say is a loophole in the fuel economy regulations that has undermined the government's ability to actually cut gas consumption. The average fuel economy for new vehicles is lower now than it was two decades ago, despite advances in fuel-saving technology.

"This is a new low for the auto industry, and it would make George Orwell proud," said Daniel Becker, a global warming expert at the Sierra Club.

It is particularly striking that Subaru wants to call the Outback a light truck because many of its owners see the wagon version as a rugged alternative to a sport utility, and the Outback sells best in those parts of the country, like college towns, where many people think it unfashionable to own an S.U.V.

"I probably can't count my friends with Outbacks on one hand — I'd have to use feet and toes," said Elizabeth Ike, 29, a fund-raiser at Sweet Briar College, which is an hour south of Charlottesville, Va. She said "the Outback might as well be Charlottesville's official car," adding that the town "likes to think of itself as an island that is more globally aware than the rest of the state."

"I don't want to speak for my friends, but I think they probably don't want to be that person in the Excursion," she said, referring to Ford's largest sport utility.

Subaru, a unit of Fuji Heavy Industries, says the new Outback, which will make its debut next month at the Chicago auto show and go on sale this spring, will retain its not-an-S.U.V. image because the changes being made are technical in nature. What customers will notice will be the new Outback's glossier look, executives said. Further, the base model will be more fuel efficient than the current version.

They said that calling the Outback a light truck will also let them offer the option of a tinted rear window not allowed on passenger cars.

Subaru executives noted that the sedan version of the Outback accounts for only about 8 percent of the model's sales, or about 3,500 vehicles a year; the rest are wagons. But critics say the actual numbers are less important than the precedent that the reclassification would set.

"If they can do it with a sedan, then anyone can do it with a sedan," said John DeCicco, a senior fellow and fuel economy expert at Environmental Defense. "It's almost like anything goes at this point."

Federal regulations originally set less-stringent fuel economy and emissions requirements for light trucks to avoid penalizing builders, farmers and other working people who relied on pickups. But the exemption opened the way for automakers to replace sedans and station wagons with vehicles that fit the definition of a light truck, notably sport utility vehicles and minivans.

Light trucks now account for more than half of all passenger vehicles sold in the country, up from about a fifth in the late 1970's.

The Transportation Department oversees corporate average fuel economy regulations and fines companies that do not comply with the rules.

Companies that change a borderline vehicle can benefit in two ways, because a big wagon that can sink an automaker's car average may improve its truck average. That, in turn, makes it possible to produce more big trucks and still meet the overall truck standard.

Since the regulatory system was put in place after the oil shocks of the 1970's, the industry has not only invented the minivan and greatly expanded the sport utility and pickup markets, but also started selling wagonlike "crossover" vehicles, like Chrysler's PT Cruiser, that blend cars and S.U.V.'s but are designed to meet the specifications of light trucks.

There are different ways to make a car meet the federal definition of a light truck, including making the rear seats removable to give a wagon a flat loading floor or raising a vehicle's ground clearance to at least 20 centimeters, or a little less than 8 inches. Subaru will raise the Outback's height from a minimum of 7.3 inches to as much as 8.7 inches next year, and will make other adjustments, like altering the position of the rear bumper, to meet light truck specifications.

Significantly raising the ride height can have a hazardous effect on a vehicle's stability. Part of the current Outback's appeal is that it performs better than S.U.V.'s on rollover tests.

"I live in the northern suburbs of New York and I saw a lot of S.U.V.'s on their backs like turtles," said Ralph Schiavone, 46, a consultant who lives in Westchester County, N.Y., explaining why he bought an Outback.

Tim Hurd, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a branch of the Transportation Department, said a vehicle either met the specific technical requirements of being a light truck, or it did not. "They aren't a judgment call," he said.

Added to the complexity of the system is the fact that tailpipe emissions of pollutants are overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has classification rules that do not match those of the Transportation Department. The E.P.A., however, has said it will phase out the distinction between cars and trucks this decade.

Congressional efforts to change fuel economy standards face entrenched opposition from some members of both political parties. But last month, the Bush administration proposed an overhaul of fuel regulations for light trucks and an altered definition to rein in classification problems.

Environmental groups and consumer advocates have generally criticized the administration's proposals as potentially making a complicated system even more prone to manipulation, though they say aspects of the plan — in an early, undetailed form — could be beneficial.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
SUBARU RELEASES STATEMENT REGARDING 2005 MY OUTBACK CLASSIFICATION

CHERRY HILL, N.J., Jan. 13, 2004 – Subaru of America, Inc. today released the following statement in response to various media reports regarding the vehicle classification of its new Outback Wagon and Sedan:

The primary reason the 2005 model year Outback will be classified according to NHTSA as a light duty truck is because it was completely redesigned to meet customer demand for more SUV-type features.

Subaru pioneered the crossover vehicle category back in 1995 with the Legacy Outback - the World's First Sport Utility Wagon. Today, the crossover category is the fastest growing segment in the auto industry. Through our market research, we know that customers don't want to sacrifice fuel economy, comfort, ease of entry, or ride quality; but desire SUV-like features such as dark-tinted side rear windows, higher ground clearance, and approach and departure angles suitable for off-road driving. Customers frequently choose Subaru Outback over conventional truck-based SUVs because of its outstanding fuel economy, performance, handling, and safety. The new Outback will continue to deliver the best of both worlds to the popular cross-over segment and remain a strong alternative to SUVs.

The new Outback, to debut at the Chicago Auto Show in early February, was designed to be a light duty truck. In fact, both the Outback Wagon and Sedan will exceed the NHTSA light duty truck standards on 4 of 5 requirements including break over angle, departure angle, running clearance, and axle clearance.

Subaru has always made fuel economy a top priority in its product development process. Subaru has a track record of producing superior crossover vehicles that meet stringent federal safety and emissions standards. The new Outback is no exception. The base model Outback is expected to have improved gas mileage for model year 2005, while we will also offer a model with enhanced performance characteristics for those customers that have expressed that desire. The new Outback Wagon and Sedan will meet federal emissions standards for light duty truck – which is as stringent as emission standards for light duty vehicles as defined by the EPA and ARB. However, final testing by the EPA for emissions compliance and fuel economy label calculations for model year 2005 Outback has not yet been completed and therefore is not available.

Subaru is committed to developing advanced technologies that improve fuel economy and emissions as evidenced by the new Sequential Series Hybrid Electric (SSHEV) propulsion system in the B9SC and the urban commuter electric vehicle R1e concept cars featured at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. In addition, the new Outback released later this year will feature advanced engine technologies such as Active Valve Control System (AVCS) that improves overall engine efficiency. Further, the newly designed Outback body structure reduces overall vehicle weight by as much as 180 pounds.

Subaru always has been and will continue to be committed to safeguarding the natural environment that so many of our customers avidly enjoy


What does everyone think of this?
 

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WOW! I had not heard anything about this! Here is my take:

First, I didn't even know that Subaru was going to continue making the USDM Outback Sedan after 2004. Maybe I'm wrong but I haven't seen it anywhere else in the world in the 3rd gen OB form.

Next, this article makes it sound like the 2.5L turbo WILL be available in the 2005 Outback. The only indications I've seen are that the standard 2.5L and H6-3.0 will be available for the 2005 OB and NOT the turbo 2.5L. That would be odd IMO, I'd think they'd keep the turbo for the Legacy. The H6 would be more feasible for the OB because of its better torque band.

Raising the ground clearance? Wow, my OB comes standard with 8 inches, I know the standard 4-cyl comes with 7.3 inches. If it had upwards of 9 inches I think that would bring far more people to the table, everyone could get more usage out of it.

My biggest concern, by labeling the Outback as a light truck I'd expect the insurance rates to go up by a fair margin. Not a good thing, as I stated in the comparo thread the OB is among the lowest cost cars to insure because of its wagon status. This does not bode well in my eyes, I may just keep my current OB for quite a while if insurance rates shoot up.

Of note, as far as I know Subaru has not done any of these things to any other 3rd gen Outbacks sold in the rest of the world. I wonder if they will follow suit or if this is just a U.S. market thing. This is probably just SOA tailoring the OB to the highly competitive USDM.

This is a VERY interesting topic, we'll have to watch this one closely! I'm planning to go to the Chicago Auto Show in Feb and I'll come back with a full report w/pics. I am really interested in how long Subaru has been planning this, its just that they haven't done this anywhere else in the world and it seems soo sudden that they would just pull this card out right before they officially released the car in the U.S. Hmmm... we'll all just have to wait and see :8:
 

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Interesting. I hate to see Subaru get drawn into the race for "more SUV-like features", but if that's the way the market goes...

I understand the environmentalists' point, I suppose, but they need to be criticizing the regulations as they currently stand, not Subaru for reading them closely and taking advantage. Not to mention, the least-efficient Subaru still guzzles less gas than a Tahoe.
 

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Tokyo's between my toes
2001 Wintergreen Outback 5MT
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Well, there goes my IT IS NOT A TRUCK statement...

I copied those and posted them on the yahoogroups Outback and Subaru-Tech.

BTW tomorrow I'll go to the Detroit show, I hope to get lots of pics.
 

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SubaruOutback.org Founder
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Here's some more spin!

Subaru modifies Outback to make a truck


The Associated Press
1/13/2004, 11:44 a.m. ET


DETROIT (AP) — Subaru is modifying its Outback sedan and wagon to meet the specifications of a light truck, a classification with less stringent fuel and emissions standards than for cars.

Mike Whelan, a spokesman for Subaru of America Inc., said Tuesday that the changes for the 2005 model year are in response to feedback from Outback owners who requested features only allowed in trucks, such as higher ground clearance and tinted side-rear windows.

Federal regulations on fuel economy and emissions divide companies' fleets into two categories — cars and light trucks. An automaker's car fleet must have an average fuel economy of 27.5 miles per gallon for the 2005 model year, while trucks must average 21 miles. By pushing a borderline vehicle into the truck fleet, a company gains more flexibility for that vehicle and can also boost its truck-fleet average.

Emissions standards for trucks are also less stringent than those for cars.

Whelan acknowledged that the Outback switch, initially reported by The New York Times on Tuesday, will subject it to lower fuel economy and environmental standards, but emphasized that the main reason was to provide the features customers want.

"One thing to keep in mind is that our vehicles do get good fuel economy across the board," he said.

Whelan said fuel economy figures for the 2005 Outback, which is to be introduced at the Chicago Auto Show next month, were not yet available.
You know what I actually think that this is kinda funny! I guess that the ole'GM influence is starting to pay off for Subaru. They are starting to learn how to skip around a few rules here and there, but thats the way buisiness goes:rolleyes: :22: Also that NY Times story seemed very negative towards Subaru, kinda reminded me of the tone of what Howard Dean usually says:rolleyes: Well I hate the NY Times and their leftest reporting, so I'll just leave that for another thread.

I did some more thinking on this and I think now that this is a great idea for Subaru. It opens up more room for performance, gives the customer more useability, further distinguishes the Outback from the Legacy, Outback could own the safety rating title, Subaru may drop lower gears in to make it better offroad, and Subaru could FINALLY put a manual tranny in for better performance on & off road & for better gas mileage. All those among other things. The manual idea is something Subaru should highly consider, with a 6MT you'd have 4 low gears perfect for off roading and you'd have 2 OD's to conserve gas wherever else. You could REALLY get the most out of the H6-3.0 that way, SUBARU LISTEN UP!!! :twak:

I'm sure many people will complain about this, most Outback buyers are ones who don't want to drive a minivan or pay too much for an SUV. But they are looking at this in a negative light, Subaru is trying to IMPROVE the OB so you can feel more justified in buying one as compared to wasting you hard earned money on an overpriced SUV. Instead of having people look at the Outback saying that it is trying to skip around the standards of a car they are trying to raise the standards of the SUV and truck market. Those are the lines SOA needs to take if they want to market the new OB the right way to sceptical people. If people want to crybaby about a car they should cry about the Legacy, if they want to crybaby about a TRUCK they can cry about the Outback, Nuff Said. I'll babble on some more thoughts later...

:soapbox: <<<Oh NO! Not this guy YET AGAIN!!!
 

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The OB should still be far less tippy, and safer, than any other SUV-type vehicle around. Complying to Federal regulations for trucks does not automatically make the OB behave the same as a Silverado, no matter what the NYTimes may have you believe.

It's interesting to note (and correct me if I'm wrong) that when Subaru brought out the original BRAT, it came with the two jumpseats in the back mainly so it would qualify as a passenger car, and not be subject to the same tariffs/regulations as other imported trucks!
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I just hope the outback is still a decent handler. Thats what I like about it most. It does well enough for me as is off road and is still fun to drive home from work. Best of both worlds! I'm scared all this added clearance will take away a bit of the on-road fun... but I guess it will add some off-road fun :D

Kevin
 

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tn_subieman said:
The OB should still be far less tippy, and safer, than any other SUV-type vehicle around. Complying to Federal regulations for trucks does not automatically make the OB behave the same as a Silverado, no matter what the NYTimes may have you believe.

It's interesting to note (and correct me if I'm wrong) that when Subaru brought out the original BRAT, it came with the two jumpseats in the back mainly so it would qualify as a passenger car, and not be subject to the same tariffs/regulations as other imported trucks!
Well just because there is a higher probability that it will flip people are goin to cry, even if the probability is still very low and much lower than any of its competitors. Modern society just wouldn't be the same without all the crybaby people whining about the smallest, most miniscule problems :rolleyes:

And although I'm no expert myself, I've heard many different things about Subaru being a champion of skipping around rules and whatnot in the past. For example, someone told me that back in the begining in the 360 days, Subaru actually found a loop hole that would allow the 360 to pass saftey standards under that of a motorcycle because it weight was less than 1000lbs!!! That is hiliarious! I don't even want to go into what I've heard about the Legendary Brat, thats for another thread ;)

Ya know, this is turning into more of a comedy show for me. I am really starting to like Subaru's slickster ways, they are very clever and only improve their vehicles in ways many probably wouldn't have thought of. It makes me think of some historical things the Heroic King of Wei Cao Cao did back during the Three Kingdoms period in ancient China. Yup! Subaru and the Wei Empire go hand in hand, although Cao Cao would have put a manual transmission with an H6 by now!!!!:roadtrip:
 

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Tokyo's between my toes
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I would have liked it better if Subaru had introduced the beefed-up OB as a different model under a different name - Brumby? The thought of a stronger OB is very tempting as something to buy.

Let's see how this shakes out, they may lose people and gain people.

BTW the manual shift on my 98 is much fun, I would never trade for an automatic even though I lose the limited-slip rear end that some automatic models have.

*wiggles gearshift and grins* there's snow in the forecast tonight...
 

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05 Outback

This is my first post--just joined today (even though my '97 Outback no longer with me). Nonetheless, I'm looking into the '05. Is it likely to look pretty much like the current version available in Australia?

http://subaru.com.au/explore/outback/

If so, good job Subaru!

What information can we expect from the News Conferece at the Chicago AS: timetable for distribution? available models?

I for one am a dedicated manual transmission guy, and I'm also hoping for a little more power than the straight-up 2.5, so I guess I'd like to see a 2.5t 5-speed (I don't see an H6 mated to the MT). Any hints?
 

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Re: 05 Outback

mudge said:
This is my first post--just joined today (even though my '97 Outback no longer with me). Nonetheless, I'm looking into the '05. Is it likely to look pretty much like the current version available in Australia?

http://subaru.com.au/explore/outback/

If so, good job Subaru!

What information can we expect from the News Conferece at the Chicago AS: timetable for distribution? available models?

I for one am a dedicated manual transmission guy, and I'm also hoping for a little more power than the straight-up 2.5, so I guess I'd like to see a 2.5t 5-speed (I don't see an H6 mated to the MT). Any hints?
Well mudge your more than welcome here OB or not :) But seeing as how you don't have an Outback currently I'll make you an Honorary Member for being an enthusiast for the 2005 model ;)

It is going to look the same as the Oz Outback, although according to rumor it will have a raised suspension and tinted windows. I'm going to the Chicago show and I'll come back with a full report w/pics. Keep checking around here for any udates.

As far as having a manual transmission on the 2005, you may have to settle for the standard 2.5L. Although there have been many indications that Subaru may put the 2.5L Turbo in the Outback. Don't hold your breath though, besides the standard 2.5L is going to be more refined with a little more power. Like I said just keep checking in everyone once in a while and we'll have updates whenever they come in :D
 

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OBXT Moderator, ,
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Thanks for the info. And I'm delighted to be an honorary member--who knows, maybe to become worthy for full membership soon. As such, I'll be looking forward to the reports out of Chicago. The GT made some waves in Detroit, so I'm hopeful we'll see the same from the windy city.

BTW, the '97 Outback went to my son three years ago and at about 141K it cracked its block. He's since sold it to his cousin, who allegedly is going to put it back in working order. I also owned an '82 Loyale for many years. Great car.

Anyhow, I was in the market and looking seriously at the '04 Forester XT, but I got a look at that '05 and decided to wait and see what Subaru'll do with it. It's supposed to be almost an inch higher than the OZ version. Interesting.
 

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Here's some new news I think everyone will find interesting ;)

Subaru Recognized for Cleaner Vehicles at EPA Tier 2 Event

What:
Subaru will be recognized among other automakers by the Environmental Protection Agency for producing cleaner vehicles in 2004. The cleaner vehicles meet the new EPA Tier 2 standard.

The Tier 2 emissions standards are the first EPA standards to apply equally to both cars and light trucks. The federal Tier 2 standards are also equivalent to the more stringent California LEV II emissions standards which are also being phased in starting with the 2004 models. Additionally, the Tier 2 vehicle emissions standards are the first EPA vehicle standards that include parallel standards for cleaner, low-sulfur gasoline.

All Subaru 2.5-liter naturally aspirated products manufactured at Subaru Indiana Automotive (Subaru Baja, Legacy, and Outback) are Tier 2, Bin 5.

Subaru Legacy and Outback models with 2.5-liter engines distributed for sale in California (and in Northeast states which have adopted California Specification Emission Control Systems and are registered for use in those states) are specially equipped to meet the California Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV credited SULEV2) requirements.

Subaru executives will be available for interviews.

Who:
Don Bearden, Director, Government Relations, Subaru of America, Inc.
Jim Murphy, Manager Government Affairs, Subaru Research & Development, Inc.

When:
Monday, January 26, 2004 - 10:00 AM ET

Where:
Ronald Reagan building, Atrium Hall, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC

About Subaru of America, Inc.

PRNewswire -- Jan. 23

Here's the Article

Well all those greenie weenie leftist evironmentalists can just shut up about Subaru trying to "dodge" the emission standards. They can cry all they want, but I think they just need to get their stories straight :rolleyes:
 

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New OB center of gravity

Subaru has lowered the drive train to compensate for raising the clearance on the new OB. The center of gravity should be close to previous OB's. Handling should not be a problem.

I'm pretty sure the emission from the OB will be the same as the Legacy so I don't think Subaru is trying to dodge that bullet. They are probably trying to dodge the corporate fuel average bullet. Face it. AWD uses more gas. To me it's worth the price.

I read an article on the truck designation in one of the weekly auto business rags we get at work and will try to find it to supply some more details. I work for an OEM so we get some inside info in the periodicals we receive at work.
 

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This explains why Our Outback is designated as a pick up truck at the Mn. Dept of Motor Vehicles. And why our yearly taxation is sooo high.

Sure, Subaru got around the CAFE requirements, only to cost the owner more money in operating costs.
 

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I think you win the longest thread resurrection award.

This thread is old enough to drive.
Do I get a sticker for our '17? :wink2:

I did a search for this subject because the state of Minnesota is going thru a heeeuge mess during implementation of a new computerized registration system. When I got tabs last year it took 3 months and multiple trips to the deputy registrar. The cost was outrageous. I noted that our Outback was categorized as a Pick Up. Meaning a much higher tax base. I was going to dispute the category designation. But, alas, no legs to stand on.
 
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