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Did you know that Subaru makes a pickup truck, and it was once electric? It’s the Sambar, and it is more like a mini truck or Japanese KEI-class vehicle. The thing is that these small trucks are picking up steam in the U.S. as interest in smaller packages and electrification increases. Usually limited to 25 mph, you see them in town or used by groundskeepers at golf courses or by farmers on private property.

While it’s small, it is also practical and rugged. And in 2023, it makes for a compelling alternative that, so far, Subaru doesn’t want to capitalize on in America. Though no longer available in Japan as an EV, when it was, it had a 100-mile range continuously driven at 25 mph and reached a full charge in eight hours.

What powers the Subaru Sambar today?

2023 Sambar front 3/4 view
2023 Subaru Sambar van | Subaru

With the motor and battery lying flat and behind the cab, the cab was exceptionally quiet. Subaru “pursued comfort, functionality, and safety from the standpoint of the actual user, as well as clean and quiet driving characteristics such as quietness,” it says. Subaru still makes the Sambar, but it is now gas-powered.

Silver 2023 Subaru Sambar van
2023 Subaru Sambar van | Subaru

Power now comes from a three-cylinder 600cc dual overhead cam engine. Possessing 45 hp, it grunts out 44 lb-ft of torque. The Sambar is popular enough that it sells in four different trims. It is available in a base, TA, TC, and Grand Cab version. Both two- and four-wheel drive are available, with either a five-speed manual transmission or CVT automatic.

Subaru is reticent about its truck plans, if there even are any. Most automakers are. So we don’t know if a truck version of the Baja Wilderness or other variants is in the works. But bridging the gap with a return to an electric Sambar and configuring it for the U.S. market is an idea worth pursuing.

Is the Subaru Sambar imported into the U.S.?

2023 Subaru Sambar with open tailgate
2023 Subaru Sambar pickup | Subaru

With the chicken tax law in the U.S. all but eliminating off-shore-built commercial vehicles, Subaru would need to add an assembly line to its existing Lafayette, Indiana, assembly plant unless it found a way to apply “tariff engineering” to circumvent the tax. Yes, there are ways to sometimes find a loophole.

First, the tax applies to “light trucks.” Would a Sambar be defined as a light truck, or is it something else due to its size and power? Or could Subaru ship Sambars broken down and have a private company assemble them in the U.S.?

Is there a way to get around the chicken tax?

2023 Subaru Sambar low angle front shot
1973 Subaru Sambar pickup | Subaru

Imported into the country as something other than a light truck would be the easiest and cheapest way. By having a broken-down “kit” assembled here, it could bring an added expense. The chicken tax is a 25 % tariff. It was also once applied to potato starch, dextrin, and brandy, according to Autotrends.

So there you are. The Sambar offers a great opportunity for both buyers seeking a small utility truck or van and Subaru. It allows them to get a foot in the electric truck door. It’s unconventional, but we think it would sell well here.


The Subaru Sambar Is a Small but Mighty Kei Van