Toyota Wants Car Buying to Feel More Like Buying an IPad

Scion iA
With a starting price of about $16,000, the iA sedan will become Scion’s new entry model. Source: Toyota Motor Corp. via Bloomberg

Toyota Motor Corp. wants buying a car to feel more like ordering an iPad and less like the current four-hour ordeal.

The carmaker plans to expand a pilot program for its struggling, youth-targeted Scion brand that lets customers do everything short of sign for the keys before setting foot in a dealership. The names of its latest models, the iA sedan and iM five-door hatchback, have the familiar ring of Apple products.

“There aren’t too many things out there anymore that you can’t buy in an online way, and it’s really automotive that’s lagging pretty much every other industry out there,” Doug Murtha, Scion’s brand chief, said before this week’s New York International Auto Show. “That’s what we’re trying to solve.”

Called Pure Process+, the quicker car-buying option reinforces Toyota’s commitment to continue with Scion even as the brand heads for its third year of declining sales in an expanding U.S. market. Murtha calls Scion a “petri dish” that Toyota can use to work out kinks as it tries to move car-buying closer to shopping for products from Apple or Amazon.com Inc.

Toyota’s dealers are more comfortable trying the new approach first with lower-volume models in Scion’s lineup than with top sellers such as the Camry sedan, Murtha said. While more than half of Pure Process+ users spend less than two hours buying a car, Scion aims to whittle down process to less than an hour, Murtha said.

Scion plans to offer Pure Process+ across its roughly 1,000 U.S. dealers by the time iA and iM start selling in September. Toyota last added a new car to the brand’s lineup when it introduced the FR-S sports coupe in early 2012.

Sales Slump

Deliveries of Scion’s five existing models fell 12 percent to just 7,554 vehicles in the first two months of this year. That’s roughly the equivalent of one week’s worth of Camry sales in the U.S.

Toyota needs to sell more than 100,000 Scions a year to sustain the brand, Murtha said. He predicted Scion will sell 30,000 to 40,000 iAs and more than 20,000 iMs. The brand will introduce a third new model in early 2017.

With a starting price of about $16,000, the iA sedan becomes Scion’s new entry model while the iM will start at less than $20,000. The brand is eliminating the xD hatchback and iQ small car.

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