Subaru is quite an interesting brand, always being the weakest among the major Japanese automakers and focusing its appeal on niche markets. Today, Subaru has come a long way from its quirky past and is now an iconic automaker thanks to a few things in particular. Among those things are AWD go-anywhere capabilities and legendary rally cars like the WRX, which are known for their performance. Trucks, however, aren’t something Subaru is known for, but that didn’t stop them from trying to make their own twice.
Beginning with the BRAT in the 1970s, Subaru created a small car-based pickup for light duty and off-road fun. The BRAT was a moderate success and was remembered as one of the most wacky trucks ever sold in America, with famous owners like Ronald Reagan even using one as their ranch car. But BRAT came to an end in the 1990s and Subaru didn’t have a truck in its lineup.
What would fill this void was the Baja, a vehicle remembered by most as the brand’s biggest sales disaster, and a nasty failure in alliance with the Pontiac Aztek. Known primarily for its odd appearance, the Baja was a perfect storm of failures and wrong steps that led to its failure.
The question remains then, what exactly made the Baja a disaster for Subaru?
Strange concept: many quirks
With successful growth in North America during the turn of the millennium, Subaru introduced a new concept at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show known as the ST-X concept. Built on top of the existing Subaru Outback platform, the ST-X stood for “Sport Truck Xperimental” and was Subaru’s attempt to bring to market a new car-based pickup, essentially a BRAT for the 21st century.
With bright yellow paint and a weird look, the ST-X was designed as a fun and exciting lifestyle vehicle. This excitement started with the engine, when Subaru broke with its turbo tradition and installed a supercharger in the venerable 4-cylinder boxer engine. It didn’t stop there, either, with several unique features like a “kickback” door to extend the cargo bed inside. But, the ST-X’s biggest virtue was its base on the existing Outback, which combines off-road capabilities, comfortable interior, and pleasant car handling on the road with the utility of an open-box truck. The ST-X stood out as an eye-catching concept and generated some buzz for the brand.
With a promising concept, Subaru began work on a production version, the new truck became known as the Baja and debuted for sale in August 2002. Surprisingly, the Baja looked almost identical to the concept, retaining most of its points and design. unique. characteristics, a rare phenomenon when bringing a concept into production. But a cool concept is useless if the production version loses its mark in the real world market, and it would become apparent just how wrong the Baja really was for years to come.
Decent Car – Substandard Truck
With its overall design and Outback-based mechanical aspects, the Baja was fine as a car, retaining all the good points of the Outback’s driving characteristics and comfort. But, the Baja’s point of distinction was its truck half, and this would be the standard by which it was judged; after all, you could still buy an Outback if you didn’t want the truck bed. This was the first problem that led to Baja’s disappearance.
The truck market is based on different rules than the car market. Ford buyers will stick with Ford trucks, as these vehicles are treated as must-have work tools, creating a stronger sense of brand loyalty than most cars. With Subaru still the underdog in the car market and a new name in the truck market, their job was done for them. So to attract buyers from the existing truck market, the Baja should have had competitive trucking capabilities, but it didn’t.
The problem was, the Baja was a car-based monocoque pickup, often called a “ute.” The Utes inherently have less towing and hauling capabilities than a traditional body on frame trucks, and the Baja was no exception. With a towing capacity of …