Go Truck Yourself: Outdoorsy Subaru Dodges Fuel Economy Rules

Reclassifying Sedans and Wagons as SUVs to Skirt Standards is Affront to Company's Core Customers, Sets Poor Precedent for Auto Industry

WASHINGTON, DC (January 14, 2004) -- Subaru, the automaker that built its name marketing to skiers, bikers, kayakers and other outdoor enthusiasts is telling customers to take a hike. The company is about to skirt federal fuel economy rules by officially reclassifying the sedans and wagons in its popular Outback line as trucks, making small design adjustments to exploit a loophole that subjects the car to much weaker efficiency standards. Decreased fuel economy means more pollution from the tailpipe.

Subaru's contempt for air quality and the environment runs sharply counter to the image promoted by the company. The story -- first reported in yesterday's New York Times -- will resonate most with the carmaker's core market: active Americans concerned with healthy quality of life and outdoor preservation, according to NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council). It also sets a poor precedent for the auto industry as a whole.

"Subaru has spent years building a reputation with people who care about a healthy environment. Cutting corners on fuel economy rules and increasing emissions gives buyers a big reason to think twice before walking into the showroom," said Dr. Dan Lashof, Science Director of the NRDC Climate Center. "Customers expect more responsibility from a car company that markets itself the way Subaru does."

NRDC is encouraging its members and others to contact Subaru to register complaints about the plan.

One probable reason for the embarrassing move: Subaru's average fuel economy has been falling steadily for several years, with their 2003 models barely meeting the 27.5 mpg requirement for cars. Light trucks must average only 20.7 mpg today, and 21.2 mpg in 2005. The Outback is based on the Subaru Legacy, which has been treated as a car under federal guidelines since its introduction as a 1989 model. Subaru is able to skirt car standards by raising the suspension and ground clearance of the current vehicle.

Last year, Subaru named Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong as national spokesman. The company sponsors a wide range of outdoor organizations including the American Canoe Association, the International Mountain Bicycling Association and the National Ski Patrol. Recent television ads made fun of SUV owners lumbering through the wilderness, positioning Subaru cars as the lighter-footed alternative.

Subaru also has a high profile cross marketing deal with outdoor retailer L.L. Bean. Other corporate partners include Dagger Kayaks, and the Gary Fisher Mountain Bike Team, along with ski equipment makers Swix and Nordica. Institutional partners include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the Geological Society of America, the Carnegie Science Center and the Franklin Institute Science Museum.