FHI started out as The Aircraft Research Laboratory in 1917 headed by Chikuhei Nakajima. In 1931, the company was reorganized as Nakajima Aircraft Company, Ltd and soon became the primary manufacturer of aircraft for Japan during World War II. At the end of the Second World War Nakajima Aircraft was again reorganized, this time as Fuji Sangyo Co, Ltd. In 1946, the company created the Fuji Rabbit motor scooter with spare aircraft parts from the war. In 1950, Fuji Sangyo was divided into 12 smaller corporations according to the Japanese Government’s 1950 Corporate Credit Rearrangement Act, anti-zaibatsu legislation, but between 1953-1955, four of these corporations and a newly formed corporation Fuji Kogyo, a scooter manufacturer; coachbuilders Fuji Jidosha; engine manufacturers Omiya Fuji Kogyo; chassis builders Utsunomiya Sharyo and the Tokyo Fuji Dangyo trading company decided to merge together to form the Fuji Heavy Industries known today.
Subaru 1500, a.k.a the P-1
Kenji Kita, the CEO of Fuji Heavy Industries at the time, wanted the new company to be involved in car manufacturing and soon began plans for building a car named the Subaru 1500, with the development code-name P-1. Mr. Kita canvassed the Company for suggestions about naming the P1, but none of the proposals were appealing enough. In the end, he gave the car a Japanese name that had been his personal favorite from childhood: Subaru. Only twenty P1s were manufactured due to multiple supply issues. From 1954 to 2008, the company designed and manufactured dozens of vehicles including the P1 (1954), the tiny air-cooled 360 (1958), the Sambar (1961), the 1000 (1965), the R2 (1969), the Leone (1971), the Domingo (1983), the Alcyone (1985), the Legacy (1989), the Impreza (1993), the Sambar EV electric van (1995), the Forester (1997), the Tribeca (2005), and the Exiga in 2008.
1965 Subaru 360
On October 5, 2005 Toyota Motor Corporation purchased 8.7% of FHI shares from General Motors who had owned 20.1% of FHI since 1999. GM later divested its remaining 11.4% stake, selling its shares on the open market to sever all ties with FHI. FHI previously stated that there might have been 27 million shares (3.4%) acquired before the start of trading by an unknown party on October 6, 2005, and speculation suggested that a bank or perhaps another automaker was involved. After the purchase, Toyota announced a contract with Subaru on March 13, 2006 to use the underutilized Subaru manufacturing facility in Lafayette, Indiana, and Toyota announced plans to hire up to 1,000 workers and set aside an assembly line for the Camry model, beginning in spring 2007.
Before GM’s ownership, Nissan had acquired a 20% stake in 1968 during a period of government-ordered merging of the Japanese auto industry in order to improve competitiveness under the administration of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. Nissan would utilize FHI’s bus manufacturing capability and expertise for their Nissan Diesel line of buses. In turn, many Subaru vehicles, even today, use parts from the Nissan manufacturing keiretsu. The Subaru automatic transmission, known as the 4EAT, is also used in the first generation Nissan Pathfinder. Speculation has suggested that it was Subaru that introduced Renault to Nissan, when Nissan asked for assistance in all-wheel drive (AWD) technology, and when FHI might have suggested that Renault discuss their plans with Nissan, the discussions may have been a contributing factor to the currently successful Renault-Nissan alliance. Upon Nissan’s acquisition by Renault, its 20% stake was sold to General Motors.
During the General Motors period, a modified Impreza was sold in the United States as the Saab 9-2X. A SUV (Subaru Tribeca / SAAB 9-6X) was also planned but the SAAB version did not proceed.