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Subaru is a household name nowadays, with a loyal fan base. Not many people haven’t heard of the Japanese car brand or had one in their garage at one time or another. But, what many may not know is what the brand name means and where it came from.

While most people are familiar with the cars and SUVs sold on dealership lots today,  few will remember any historic cars from the company’s earlier days. Let’s take a look at the brand’s history and what the name means and where it comes from, and then check out the first vehicle it produced for the American market.

A row of Subarus under a dealership sign with the brand's name.
Subaru logo is seen at a car dealer | Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto

The history behind the Subaru name

According to, the automaker went through several names before settling on the one we’re familiar with today. In 1915, when the company began, it was known as The Aircraft Research Laboratory. The brand focused mainly on aircraft manufacturing, especially during World War II for the Japanese air fleet. 

After the war ended, the Japanese company, known as Fuji Sangyo Co. LTD, took extra aircraft parts and created its first motorized mode of transportation. While it was no car or truck, the brand developed a nice motor Scooter dubbed the Fuji Rabbit. 

By 1950, the Japanese government had passed the Corporate Credit Rearrangement Act that divided the company under the Fuji Heavy Industries name. This was when it merged into car manufacturing with the concept of developing its first vehicle, which the company ultimately named the Subaru 1500. The company name then became Subaru as well.

What does Subaru’s name stand for?

Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades, which stands for a cluster of stars. It’s also known as the seven sisters. The brand’s logo has six stars, representing the six merged companies that formed the previously named Fuji Heavy Industries, according to J.D. Power

The Subaru brand didn’t hit American soil until 1968, when it produced its first vehicle made for the U.S. market. The American plants started in Philadelphia but later moved to Pennsauken, New Jersey, before settling in its current spot, within the city limits of Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

The first Subaru model to hit the brand’s production line

The first model made in the American market was the Subaru 360, which ran on a 354cc displacement two-stroke engine. The body was extremely lightweight, which was designed that way to avoid specific Japanese tax rules. The light vehicle also slid under the radar of American safety standards, which turned out to be a mistake. 

It was an inexpensive car that wasn’t much to look at. The company even tried to market it as ugly and budget-friendly. However, despite being cheap, the car didn’t take off on American soil, which it turns out was a good thing. Consumer Reports published its review in 1969, listing all kinds of problems with it. 

One issue was the placement of the headlights, which sat at the same level as the bumper did on other vehicles. If you got into a crash, the lights would get crushed quite easily. Also, the interior of the car was very cramped, making it uncomfortable for passengers trying to enjoy the drive. The Subaru 360 ended with the destruction of all the unsold models remaining.

The brand never gave up making vehicles; today, it sees impressive sales numbers for many models coming off the production line. 

Subaru went through several company names before settling on the current brand name. It’s also seen many company reorganizations during that time as well. Today, Subaru is a name many people recognize and equate with reliable cars, even though they may not realize what it actually means. 

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