Subaru Automotive Indiana – Click above for high-res gallery

With the genesis of our 2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT long-termer just a few hundred miles down the road in Lafayette, Indiana, we thought it only appropriate to pick up our bouncing burgundy baby at the factory.

Many folks we know still express surprise that our Legacy is built in the States, but the folks at Fuji Heavy Industries have been building the model at Subaru Automotive Indiana (SIA) since its production lines fired up way back in September of 1989. Like the Legacy itself, the plant was a much different animal at that time. Back then, it was a joint production facility between Subaru and fellow Japanese automaker Isuzu, which assembled its pickup, the Rodeo, and eventually, the Axiom (remember those?) before exiting the venture in 2004.

The plant presently builds the Legacy sedan, its tippy-toes-with-mukluks cousin, the Outback and Tribeca, and the Toyota Camry, a car it's built since early 2007. In the past, it was also responsible for North American production of the Subaru Baja and the Honda Passport, the Rodeo's mechanical twin. If you're getting the impression that this plant has been a remarkably flexible manufacturing facility, you've got it right. Follow the jump to read more.


Updates on our year-long experience with this Subaru can be found by checking out its long-term page. Bookmark it, subscribe to our RSS feed and follow our tweets (#ablongterm) as we start on the long road ahead with our Legacy 2.5GT.

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Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.


Housed in just shy of three million square feet, SIA is as much like a village to visit as it is an auto manufacturing plant. Of course, there's the main production facility that houses everything from stamping to suspension assembly to paint shops and engine installation, but there are also things like a small test track, tech training center, day care, infirmary, gym, and even a baseball diamond. Outside of company grounds, suppliers have set up their own operations to work more efficiently with the plant. SIA is hardly unique in this regard, and we've seen many plants that offer a lot of these sorts of services, but it's the totality of Subaru's approach that takes us aback as we tour the facility.

We see the multi-story stamping press turning gigantic rolls of sheet steel into body parts, suspensions being assembled, drivetrains mating with chassis, interiors being fitted and cars being dyno'd. Not only is the place startlingly clean and well laid-out, the workers all seem genuinely happy as they go about their business or walk through the halls. Most don't even notice our presence as we peer down from overhead catwalks or walk the line, and all seem good-natured yet very focused. It's almost creepy, as if some sort of happy gas is being introduced through the factory's HVAC system.




Of course, Subaru has a fair bit to be upbeat about these days – despite the dire economy, the company has excellent momentum sales-wise, partially because of improved products and in part because the market has itself shifted toward traditional Subaru values (all-wheel drive, utility and fuel-efficiency). It's also true that after hosting the manufacturing of more than its fair share of oddball and minimally successful fringe vehicles, SIA now has a base of reliable, steady work for the foreseeable future with the strong-selling Outback and Legacy, as well as the perennially popular Camry. In fact, recent sales have been so robust that it took a while for Subaru to even start building smaller-volume derivatives like our 2.5GT, as its books were full with Outback and Legacy 2.5i and 3.6R orders.
A Crocodile Dundee-spec hat and knife are amusingly on display in the plant's lobby.

Thankfully, our tour of the facility would seem to indicate that Team SIA isn't taking its momentum for granted. Throughout the plant, there are quality check stations (as you would expect to find at any modern factory), but there are also Kaizen areas everywhere you look – 'continuous improvement' workshops where anyone can suggest process or product improvements. Employees who make suggestions that get implemented are awarded points, which can result in bonuses – all the way up to a free new car. Last year, SIA awarded several such vehicles, and the company has saved millions as a direct result of the ingenuity of the workers at this plant.

Perhaps the single most impressive aspect of SIA is that it is a "zero landfill" operation – a title it has held for six years, predating much of North America's eco-craze. What does it mean to be a zero landfill facility? It means that as an individual, you probably threw out more garbage yesterday than all of SIA. The entire place is an OCD haven, with separation containers for different types of waste – and not just from the production process, but also from the cafeteria, restrooms and so on. The cafeteria, for example, has so many different cans and bins for sorting, recycling and composting that the trash stations have flowcharts.




SIA's eco-efforts don't stop inside, either, as SIA was the first car factory to be named as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. Its 800 acres or so play host to everything from deer and geese to hawks, coyotes and even bald eagles. On our brief spin around the compound's 2.1-mile test track, our guides dutifully point out where the beavers had taken up residence. We can't help but wonder what swashbuckling brand pitchman Paul Hogan would make of all this – after all, his Crocodile Dundee-spec hat and knife are amusingly on display in the plant's lobby.

At the end of our time in Lafayette, we came away pleased to know that the 2.5GT comes from a good home, especially since we're settling into a year together. We're also chuffed that our Subie comes from such an ecologically conscious place, because if nothing else, it assuages that nagging bit of guilt every time we bury the MPG needle as we summon the full measure of its 265 horsepower again and again. That might not be what the folks at Fuji Heavy had in mind, but we'll take whatever karmic license we can get.


Updates on our year-long experience with this Subaru can be found by checking out its long-term page. Bookmark it, subscribe to our RSS feed and follow our tweets (#ablongterm) as we start on the long road ahead with our Legacy 2.5GT.

Related GallerySubaru Automotive Indiana

Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.