Subaru’s electrification offensive will kick into high gear in 2021

The path Subaru will take towards electrification is beginning to look clearer. The offensive will begin next year, and it will reach its cruising altitude by 2021.

The company’s first plug-in hybrid model will go on sale in the United States before the end of next year, according to the Japan Times. There’s no word yet on which model(s) will receive the brand-new drivetrain, but we predict it will be the 2018 Ascent crossover scheduled to make its debut at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show.

Here’s why: The Ascent will be the biggest Subaru to date, with enough space for up to seven passengers, so it will need a considerable amount of power to move forward. Using the Outback’s 3.6-liter flat-six would be utterly counterintuitive in an era where “downsizing” appears several times in every automaker’s product plan. The Forester XT‘s turbocharged, 250-horsepower flat-four is an option but engineers can only bump its output so far. The WRX STI’s sharp, 300-horsepower engine is ill-suited to family-hauling duties, so odds are the extra power will come from an electric motor. The crossover body style lends itself well to the extra hardware (and weight) needed to create a gasoline-electric car.

Other models — including the Outback and, possibly, the Forester — will receive the drivetrain, too. They’ll all be capable of driving on electricity alone for short distances, a new trick for Subaru. Its previous hybrid model, the last-generation Crosstrek, relied on its gasoline-burning engine at all times.

Full electrification will arrive in 2021, still according to the Japan Times. The newspaper learned Subaru will begin by electrifying existing models like the Outback, the Forester, and even the smaller Impreza. They’ll retain all-wheel drive in a bid to lure existing owners into showrooms. Production will take place in Japan.

Developing a battery-electric powertrain is an expensive enterprise, especially for a brand like Subaru which remains relatively small in spite of its seemingly infinite streak of sales records. To that end, company officials could decide to join Toyota and Mazda in a recently formed, yet-unnamed joint venture that aims, among other goals, to bring electric technology to the masses in a cost-effective way.

Finally, Subaru will stop making its turbodiesel flat-four around 2020, and for good reasons. The brand only sells diesel-powered cars in Europe, where its footprint is small to the point of near-invisibility, and in Australia, which was never a huge diesel market to begin with.