March 28 (Reuters) - Subaru unveiled its first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, the XV Crosstrek SUV hybrid, at the New York auto show on Thursday, as the Japanese carmaker aims to expand its customer base and boost sales further in its key U.S. market.
Subaru, owned by Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd, will start selling the hybrid sport-utility vehicle this summer in Japan and in the autumn in the United States.
The all-wheel drive vehicle will run in electric-only mode at low speeds, while the electric motor will assist the gasoline engine at medium speeds, Fuji Heavy said in a news release.
“For companies that have already come out with hybrid technologies, fuel efficiency preceded over other matters,” said Toshio Masuda, a corporate vice president at Fuji Heavy.
“But we will not give up on the potentials of the SUV and instead use hybrid technology to add more functions,” Masuda told reporters in Tokyo this month ahead of the unveiling at the New York International Auto Show, which is open to the public from Friday through April 7.
The company did not disclose the mileage or price of the vehicle.
Fuji Heavy, whose best-selling Subaru vehicles in the United States are the Outback wagon and the Forester compact SUV, aims to boost its U.S. sales by 8 percent to 365,000 vehicles in 2013. That would mark a record high for the fifth consecutive year in the United States, its biggest market.
Last year, Subaru sold 7,375 XV Crosstrek SUVs in the United States after the vehicle went on sale in the autumn. The company expects the hybrid version will account for up to 20 percent of the XV Crosstrek’s U.S. sales, Masuda said.
With the launch of the vehicle, Fuji Heavy joins other carmakers by using its own gasoline-electric hybrid technology. In a hybrid vehicle, a battery captures energy from the brakes to provide a supplement to the combustion engine, boosting overall mileage especially in stop-and-go city traffic.
Hybrid sales accounted for roughly 3 percent of the U.S. vehicle market in 2012. In Japan, that percentage was a hefty 40 percent of the industry total, helped by government subsidies and tax incentives.
The best-selling hybrid in the United States is Toyota Motor Corp’s Prius, with 236,659 vehicles sold in 2012. Fuji Heavy is 16.47 percent owned by Toyota, but the hybrid technology used in the XV Crosstrek is different from that used in the Prius.
Subaru’s U.S. sales rose 26 percent in 2012 to 336,441 vehicles, and its Japan sales rose 12 percent to 177,715 vehicles. Its global sales also hit a record high of 706,612 vehicles last year, and the automaker aims to expand that to 750,000 vehicles this year.