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Subaru has high hopes for new Legacy, Outback

By Max Showalter, Journal and Courier

After setting sales records in 2003, Subaru of America Inc. is banking on new looks for some veteran vehicles to boost business this year and beyond.

Associates at Subaru of Indiana Automotive Inc. in Lafayette had a chance to cheer their handiwork Friday as versions of the Subaru Legacy and Outback vehicles were unveiled to signal the start of production for the 2005 model year.

"These two vehicles clearly demonstrate our future direction and our passion for style, performance and function in the Subaru product line," said Bill Cyphers, vice president of sales for Subaru of America, who attended the Job 1 celebration that included executives spraying the new vehicles with sparkling grape juice.

"With the introduction of the new Legacy and Outback, Subaru is well positioned to achieve another record setting year in 2004."

Subaru sold nearly 187,000 vehicles in the United States in 2003, and more than 90,000 of the units were models made at SIA: Legacy, Outback and Baja. The company also sold more than 96,000 units of its Japanese-made Forester and Impreza lines in the U.S.

Hiroyuki Oikawa, SIA's president and chief executive officer, challenged the associates attending the ceremony to continue their hard work of making the Subaru brand a success.

"You did a great job. We must maintain that same energy to assure every Legacy and Outback we produce can take its place among vehicles in the world," Oikawa said. "Today is like a green flag. It signals accomplishment of preparation and beginning our drive toward the best.

"Starting today, we begin to accelerate to the winner's circle. Today we begin the drive to success."

SIA expects to build slightly more than 106,000 vehicles for Subaru this year. That includes nearly 84,000 Legacy and Outback models, another 10,000 Bajas and the remainder consisting of 2004 models, on which production was halted this week.

The automaker also is in the final stages of a contract to manufacture slightly more than 13,000 Rodeo and Axiom models for Isuzu Motors America Inc. That work, however, will end in late July and be followed by layoffs of an undetermined number of employees on the Isuzu side of the plant.

Dealers are waiting

The 2005 Legacy and Outback vehicles will be shipped to Subaru dealers in June. Versions of the Legacy models already have received a favorable sales response in Japan and Australia.

Randy Lewis, general manager of the Bob Rohrman Subaru dealership in Lafayette, is looking forward to getting the Legacy and Outback models in his showroom.

"There are a lot of people asking about them, and asking about literature on them," he said. "We don't have any literature yet. They're going to be a success for sure. I'd like to have them bad. Subaru did a lot of redesigning on them and they're going to be a hit."

The Legacy has been a staple at SIA since the plant opened in 1989. Production of the Outback began in 1995.

Advertising for new versions of the vehicles will focus on better handling, improved safety, greater comfort and increased fuel economy, along with added interior luxury and enhanced exterior styling.

That has required the installation of nearly 250 new robots in the body assembly section, preparing dies and injection molds in the stamping section, adding new equipment to the paint section and providing new model production training to associates.

"I'm proud to be part of it, here at SIA," said Tom Devaney, the plant's product manager for in-process control, who has been driving a pre-production turbocharged Outback. "We do build good, quality vehicles. I'm impressed."

Former astronaut Guy Gardner, who now is director of super project development at the Purdue University E-enterprise Center, helped lead associates in a countdown to the launch of the new production models Friday.

Gardner test drove a pre-production Outback earlier, and gave the vehicle high marks.

"It's sweet. I was looking for some acceleration based on my background, and it really pumps up," said the Purdue alumnus who flew on two space shuttle missions. "It's very smooth. Very easy to drive. From my test-pilot days, I think they've done a very good job."

Waiting on prices

Pricing for the 2005 Subaru Legacy and Outback models has not been finalized.

The 2004 Legacy had a top line manufacturers suggested retail price tag of $26,095 for sedans and $26,595 for wagons, while the MSRP for Outback was $30,995 for sedans and $32,495 for wagons.

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