California Autos Examiner

Monday, August 11, 2008

No Scion of Mine. Can Toyota Fix Its Microbrand?

It started off so fabulously. Toyota had cracked the code of the young buyer and sparked a revolution in the auto industry. Scion was a brand that was on every marketers lips and then, somehow, Toyota lost its way. The once revolutionary products were being replaced by models run through the copier machine at 120% enlargement. Quirky JDM products were turned into fat, coddling, focus group darlings. Sales began to slip. I've seen both young families and older drivers piloting the new xB around but very few of the young hipsters I used to see behind the wheel of the first generation model. Now Toyota is trying to figure out where it all went wrong while outside experts begin to second-guess if Scion was a smart move in the first place.

One of the first tenants of the Scion brand was the mantra "No Repeats." Outgoing models would be replaced by funky new vehicles that looked nothing like their predecessors. However, Toyota just couldn't do it. The xB was simply too big of a hit to just let it slip away. The xB became bigger, more powerful and in the same stroke of the paintbrush it also became a sellout, a poser. Kind of like the 23 year old going back to his high school's homecoming game and trying to look cool. The xB should have become something like the Hako Coupe Concept: a design that makes you say "I hate you, I hate you...I LOVE YOU." If Scion would have had the nuts to bring out something like the Hako, well that would have been a big old middle finger aimed right at convention. Scion could have proudly said, "Yeah, see...We meant it! Just look at this thing!" Maybe sales wouldn't have been so grand, but is Scion really about volume or is it about attracting youth that can eventually be channel up to Toyota and hopefully Lexus? I think the Hako would have gotten "much respect" whether or not it actually was a big hit. The xD is an improvement over the xA, at least in my opinion, and a step in the right direction. However, even with the xD, sales to older buyers has worried Scion enough that Toyota is bringing the five door Yaris in to lure those "old folks" away. The tC has been on the market too long, with little to show for itself other than a few special editions. The tC is a fine little car to take to work, but offers little excitement or way out wackiness: it's just a better Paseo.

This Free Press article discusses the possibility that Scion might add two new small and inexpensive models. I haven't heard much about any future Scion models other than a tC replacement that may use the Fuse Concept as inspiration. I think that Scion should be a portal into the Japanese domestic market (JDM). Young buyers, especially the 17-34 year-olds that Scion covets, know all about the cars in Japan that they can't have. These buyers can also spot a fake when they see one. If you truly want to bring Scion back to life, you've got to give these folks something funky, something that makes their elders shake their head in disgust.

How long Scion will get to right its ship is anyone's guess. We're just into the second generation and I'm sure that we'll get a third go-round before Toyota would consider euthanizing the brand. There is plenty of time and plenty of funk in the Toyota/Daihatsu lineup to revitalize Scion. Whether or not Scion's handlers have the cojones to carry out the directive is another matter entirely.

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