Subaru targets more growth at Indiana plant

Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru cars, is targeting a 6-percent increase in global sales this year, spurred by the introduction of a new Forester SUV model and demand for its Impreza and XV crossover vehicles.

The growth is expected to boost production in Lafayette, the only company’s only U.S. manufacturing plant. About 3,600 people work at the facility.

Fuji Heavy will use the plant in Lafayette to increase output, including production of a new vehicle model in 2016, President Yasuyuki Yoshinaga said. It will announce details at the end of March on the plan to boost production, he said.

Japan’s Nikkei business daily reported earlier this month that Subaru is planning to invest $230 million to increase output by 30 percent at the facility.

Subaru deliveries will probably rise to 750,000 in 2013 from 706,612 last year, the carmaker said Monday in a prepared statement. Sales in China, which posted the first rise in four months in December, will climb about 32 percent, to 57,500 units.

Fuji Heavy’s December sales in China rose 20 percent, Yoshinaga said at a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. The gain is the first that a Japanese carmaker has reported since a flare-up in political tension over disputed islets in the South China Sea led to violent demonstrations in China in September. Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. have also increased discounts and extended guarantees to win back customers.

“We thought we will have to wait until next spring to recover, but it has shown signs that sales recovery may be earlier than we expected,” Yoshinaga said.
Sales of almost 4,860 vehicles were helped by the introduction of the new Forester, Subaru’s biggest seller in China, and discounts on the older version, said Yoshiaki Tabei, a spokesman for the Tokyo-based carmaker.

Toyota’s China sales in December dropped 16 percent, to 90,800, bringing annual sales to 840,500 vehicles, 4.9 percent less than in the previous year. Nissan sales dropped 24 percent last month in China, while Honda Motor Co.’s fell 19 percent.

Sales in the U.S., its largest market, rose 20 percent in 2012 to a record, led by the Impreza hatchback. A boost in U.S. capacity is key to the company’s mid-term target through March 2016, which includes 380,000 deliveries to the U.S. out of 850,000 shipments worldwide.

The Lafayette plant opened in 1989, initially as a joint venture with truckmaker Isuzu Motors Ltd. It currently makes Outback wagons, Legacy sedans and Tribeca sport-utility vehicles as well as Camry sedans for Toyota under contract.

The factory can produce a maximum of 310,000 vehicles annually, based on state air-pollution limits, Jennifer McGarvey, a spokeswoman for the factory, said last month.

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