Subaru Corp. will introduce a series of all-electric cars in Japan as early as 2021, sources said, as competition intensifies between automakers looking to develop eco-friendly cars in response to stricter global emissions regulations.
The carmaker will initially focus on releasing electric versions of its established gasoline-powered models — like the Legacy Outback, Forester sport utility vehicle and Impreza — in order to attract existing customers and brand enthusiasts.
The electric vehicles will likely be manufactured at its plant in Gunma Prefecture, the sources said.
Carmakers around the world are in a race to develop the technology, with Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. leading the way in Japan, while Honda Motor Co. also announced last month it is planning to launch compact electric vehicles for city driving in the domestic market in 2020.
Subaru is also considering selling its electric vehicles in the North American market, which is known for its stricter environmental regulations. The carmaker makes 60 percent of its global sales in the region.
The carmaker is aiming to develop electric vehicles that perform well on environmental benchmarks while remaining fun to drive, in line with the company’s motorsports and recreation-friendly image, according to the sources.
Subaru is also considering joining a new company set up by Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. to develop electric drivetrain technologies. Subaru could possibly build its electric vehicles using the jointly-developed technologies in the future, but is likely to use proprietary systems in its first forays into the market due to the long lead-time required to develop the technology.
The carmaker is also planning to start selling plug-in hybrids in the United States in 2018. Subaru will likely stop producing diesel-powered vehicles available in the European and Australian markets around fiscal 2020 to focus on electric vehicles.
The move toward low-emissions cars comes as Subaru is struggling to improve its brand image, which has been tarnished by a scandal in which unauthorized workers were found to have been carrying out final product inspections in its plants.