Was it its archetypal quirkiness or a sudden whim that led Subaru to build BRZ? The sports coupe and its sibling, the rally oriented WRX, were born when the company finally gave up producing almost extinct minivans last year and diverted its resources toward building passenger vehicles. BRZ challenges every automotive rationale – of what use is a sports car that does not have turbocharged engines and does not zoom past with 300 horsepower? Even Subaru's signature all wheel drive, or AWD, is conspicuously absent. So, is it possible that Subaru, the wonder child of its parent Fuji Heavy Industries (NASDAQOTH:FUJHY), got it all wrong with the BRZ?
How has BRZ fared?
Charts show that BRZ has been an instant hit; it has seen explosive sales ever since it made its debut in the spring of last year. The car was so much in demand that the average monthly sales figure of 500 cars that Subaru initially had in mind proved way short of demand. BRZ hit dealer lots in May 2012 and immediately sold 271 cars. In June, the monthly sales figure rose to 818. Subaru sold 4,144 BRZs in 2012 and in 2013 around 5,642 BRZs have already left showrooms. Sales were up 22% for the three-month period from June to August, compared to the same period last year.
It is quite interesting to note that Subaru collaborated with Toyota (NYSE:TM) for building the BRZ. Toyota provided the design and Subaru the engineering. Toyota sells an almost identical model under the name Scion FR-S, which was also launched in May last year. The FR-S is more than $1,000 cheaper than BRZ. But, for the period between June and August, sales of the FR-S were down 15% over last year. Similarly, sales of the popular Ford (NYSE:F) Mustang were also down 12.2% year to date through August. So, where bigger peers are finding it difficult to grow sales, BRZ is on a good run.
We can also gauge the demand for the three sports coupes from the number of days that each of them spends at dealer lots. This will eliminate the effect of any supply inconsistencies and provide a more accurate estimate of demand.
The above trends show that BRZ is in demand the most and spends the least time in showrooms.
Key to success
BRZ scores above most of its rivals on account of its light weight, extremely low center of gravity, and precision steering. The new 2014 BRZ weighs about 1,255 kg compared to Mustang V6 that weighs 1,591 kg. Its centre of gravity is at an unbelievable 460 mm. And, all this is on account of its naturally aspirated 200 horsepower boxer engines. The flat boxer engines inherently support a lower center of gravity. It is further accentuated by the rear-wheel-drive configuration, which allows the engine to be placed still lower down than other Subaru vehicles. This provides superb agility and, when coupled with BRZ's precision steering, it provides drivers with unmatched vehicle control.
Moreover, on account of its low center of gravity, the car has a sporty low-slung coupe body, which makes BRZ quite stylish. True, the Mustang makes a mark with its 305 horsepower turbocharged engine, which gives its drivers an overwhelming sense of power. But, more often than not, BRZ's style, dexterity, and driving pleasure steal the show and make up for its lower power.
It is also interesting the way BRZ takes on Toyota's FR-S because both cars are almost identical in every aspect. But the fact that BRZ offers more standard features like voice-activated navigation, an upgraded stereo, and Bluetooth hands-free-audio support is an advantage. There are also some subtle differences in aesthetics and the way the cars body roll that urge driving enthusiasts to opt for BRZs if they can find one available.
BRZ is special because it is Subaru's "halo car" – its true public face. For any automaker, its halo car is one that is designed to get people into the showroom, to attract young buyers to build brand loyalty, and isn't intended to be the top seller for the brand. BRZ fits this description perfectly.
People associate the Subaru brand with everything that is fun and adventurous and BRZ symbolizes this more than any of its other siblings. It has renewed public interest in the brand and won the hearts of youngsters, especially males. BRZ's limited supply only adds to its aura.
We will find a lot of halo cars among the sports coupes on account of their racy, flashy looks and maximum appeal to the younger generation. This is why Subaru chose this segment for building its own halo car. The U.S. market for sports coupes is small in size but big in terms of strategic importance. In 2012, annual industry sales were around 422,000 units (excluding the premium segment). Within a span of just one and a half years, BRZ has planted itself firmly in this industry with a market share of around 1.5% in 2013.
BRZ has also achieved another important purpose for Subaru. There was a market conception that Subaru is only about AWD. But, the fact that the company designed its halo car without resorting to AWD emphasises that in Subaru's world there are no stereotypes. Even without the AWD, BRZ is a signature Subaru with all its characteristic oomph and quirkiness.
Subaru needed a car that would increase it's connection with the younger generation and represent its true spirit. This was necessary for the brand's overall image and the company's continued success in the country. Subaru has achieved this ambition successfully with the BRZ and created its own halo car. BRZ is unique, affordable, athletic, and drives like a dream. It can give any car in its class a run for its money, even with its 200 horsepower engine and without AWD.
Gaurav Basu has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.