This week, Toyota announced that it will retire its youthful Scion offshoot that produced such gems as the xB, xA, FR-S, and iQ. First established to serve as a hip, youth-oriented offshoot of Toyota, Scion hit the market back in 2003 to serve as “a laboratory to explore new products and processes to attract youth customers,” and for the most part it worked… for a time. Scion took to the streets with a vengeance, targeting concerts, campuses, active nightlife areas, and festivals with a trifecta of the tC coupe, xA compact hatch, and toaster-like xB.
Customizable, LED-lit, and appropriate for a time when the first Fast & Furious film was still fresh on everyone’s lips, the sub-brand hit the market in a sweet spot that few other automakers had been able to exploit. It was by no means a powerhouse, but it did bring forth a fresh crowd of younger customers, a target market that Toyota had struggled to appeal to since its inception.
Since then, more than a million Scions have hit the streets, and 70% of them were purchased by customers who were new to the Toyota brand — half of these buyers were under 35 years old. But American buyers grew up, and although Scion genuinely tried to regain its traction with buyers with a slew of marketing techniques, collaborations, and new model launches, sales continued to slip. Last year’s numbers only reached 56,167 units, or about 10,000 units fewer than a month of Ford F-Series sales.
Toyota says that its decision to retire Scion was “made in response to customers’ needs,” recognizing that even though younger buyers still want attractive, fun vehicles to drive, they are more practical than before. The Japanese automaker says that this youthful demographic has “come to appreciate the Toyota brand and its traditional attributes of quality, dependability and reliability,” instead glorifying newer Toyota vehicles which it says have evolved in order to feature “the dynamic styling and handling young people desire.”
“This isn’t a step backward for Scion; it’s a leap forward for Toyota,” says Jim Lentz, founding vice president of Scion and current CEO for Toyota Motor North America. “Scion has allowed us to fast track ideas that would have been challenging to test through the Toyota network. I was there when we established Scion and our goal was to make Toyota and our dealers stronger by learning how to better attract and engage young customers. I’m very proud because that’s exactly what we have accomplished.”
Lentz is right on the money; Scion technically did do its job by roping in younger buyers with an average age of 36 years old, as cars like the tC sports coupe consistently attracted the lowest-average age buyer in the industry. Both the iA sedan and iM five-door hatchback have also brought forth buyers making up a 70% margin as first-time new car shoppers. Toyota also says that out of all these new car buyers, more than 50% of iM and iA drivers are under 35. However, the brand still suffered when it came to overall sales, and even with the end in sight, there might be a glimmer of hope for a few models.
According to Toyota, beginning this August certain 2017 Scion vehicles will be rebadged as Toyotas, while others will merely get the ax. Sources say that survivors include the Subaru-powered FR-S sports coupe, the Mazda crossbred iA sedan, and the well-equipped iM five-door hatchback. Unfortunately, much like the now defunct xB, the tC sports coupe will be getting put out to pasture after a final release series edition lands this August. As for the wild-looking C-HR Concept, it will supposedly reemerge later as a legitimate component in the Toyota line-up.
Toyota says that both the service and repair process for Scion customers will remain unaffected by this transition, and that customers may continue visiting Toyota dealerships for service and maintenance. Bob Carter, Toyota senior vice president of automotive operations, briefly touched upon this decision and the aid being offered. “We appreciate our 1,004 Scion dealers and the support they’ve given the brand,” he said. “During this time of transition, we will work closely with them to support this process and help communicate this change to customers.”
As for Scion’s 22 dedicated team members (which shows exactly how small this brand really is), all of them will be offered opportunities to take on new roles at Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. in Torrance, Calif. Meanwhile, Scion regional representatives are slated to transition over to different positions in their respective Toyota sales offices.
“We could not have achieved the success we have had without the incredible support of Scion’s customers, dealers and team members, so supporting them throughout this transition process will be one of our top priorities,” says Lentz. Strong words of encouragement like these from powerful men are certainly appreciated during abrupt times of upheaval. Let’s just hope that the aforementioned re-branded vehicles don’t lose too much of their youthful charm during the transition, a selling point that Toyota hasn’t always been able to tap into outside of its truck lineup.
So here’s to you Scion, you quirky auto manufacturer of yesteryear. For those of us who remember your glory days, that soon to be defunct slogan of yours still stands for something, even though the badge remains not long for this world. Thank you for offering drivers and critics alike an open-ended question that doubles as an abstract metaphor, as we look to one another and ask: “What Moves You?”