Toyota’s boutique brand of small cars celebrates its third anniversary this June, and besides building a brand that resonates with the psyche of a younger generation, Scion has also fulfilled the literal meaning of the badge, meaning "descendant" or "heir to."
Despite their compact size, the three Scion vehicles currently on the market represent the distillation of Toyota’s experience in building vehicles that deliver style and quality to consumers – in packages that are considerable more affordable than the average $25,000 transaction price of new automobiles.
Even with a global powerhouse like Toyota behind the project, ensuring the success of an expensive investment with just three models that all retail for less than $20,000 was anything but assured. In the United States, Scion started small, and deliberately on the West Coast, with the introduction of their first two models, the xA and xB, in June of 2003, selling them as 2004 models. Besides the marketing strategy of building a buzz, Toyota was also requiring dealers to install a special Scion area inside their footprints, and the rollout was carefully planned.
In terms of creating a brand identity, Scion opted to exist squarely within a message of youth, excitement and optimism, combining an edgy website with extensive cultural outreach to their demographic. The current Scion Dashboard, a month long art exhibit in San Francisco, is typical of the brand’s support of the not-quite mainstream art community, which is where they figure many of their prospective customers reside. A long-term goal of this strategy, for both Scion vehicles and the cultural outreach, is the hope that consumers will eventually be brought into the Toyota and Lexus brands. Scion is one plank in Toyota’s effort to create lifelong buyers and fans.
There are two aspects of the Scion experience that are also not-quite mainstream, and it could be said that Toyota is engaging in a bit of an experiment with an eye toward implementing them into the overall operation.
The first is fixed pricing, which Scion calls “Pure Price.” Given the wildly fluctuating rebate and financing offer environment of the last five years, Scion has correctly guessed that consumers are fatigued by trying to keep up with the different offers. So Scion’s Pure Prices are clearly listed on the website, with the promise that there will be no hidden fees or confusing deals to navigate.
The second feature of Scion marketing, that of an extensive accessory catalog, is an attempt to keep the huge consumer taste [and profit] for aftermarket components in-house. The Scion tC alone, for example, has over 30 accessories and options that can be added to the vehicle before it ever rolls out of the dealership. Besides the obvious benefit of creating a potential profit center for dealers, Scion accessories extend the ability for consumers to extend their sense of ownership in their vehicles and for the brand.
It’s no stretch to sat that this effort is trickier to pull off, because the very essence of the modification market is that ideas for parts and customization have traditionally bubbled up from the marketplace. For Scion to make this effort work in the long run will require constant innovation from both within Toyota studios as well as communication from the street where their customers live and drive their vehicles.
For now, however, Scion has made a definite splash in the market, delivering over 150,000 unit sales in 2005 from just three vehicles.
Driving the Scion tC
The tC coupe is the best example that Scion is the entryway to a lifetime of Toyota vehicle ownership. It has been dubbed a “Baby Lexus” by some, as the exterior styling far exceeds the expectation of what you can get from a vehicle that starts with a Pure Price of $16,840.
The tC is also called the “fun one,” because the five-speed manual transmission, mated to a 160-horsepower engine and front MacPherson strut suspension, makes this car a total blast.
Driving the Scion xA
The most affordable Scion with a Pure Price of only $13,320 for a manual transmission, the five-door xA hatchback has also been the slowest model to catch on with consumers.
In 2006, however, the xA is posting the biggest gains of the three models, with sales up 20.7% in the first quarter over the previous year. That may have something to do with the xA delivering the best gas mileage of the trio – 32 mpg in the city, 37 on the highway.
Driving the Scion xb
The most distinctive Scion model, the xB has the distinction of becoming a rolling icon for the brand, with customers of all ages opting to buy the funky box that also gets great mileage [30/34], along with a roomy interior whose fun exterior seems to permeate the smiles of the people driving them. The xB has a Pure Price of $14,570.