So Long, Scion

There is a common saying in the car business that a young person won’t buy an old person’s car, but an old person will buy a young person’s car.

The recent announcement by Toyota that it will be absorbing Scion back into the main body of the business was treated as a victory by some people in their late middle-age—or who may not be chronologically there yet, but certainly are emotionally oriented that way.

When Scion was established in 2003, it was positioned as being the “youth brand.”

For whatever reason, that caused people then and now—at least until Toyota’s towel-throwing announcement—to become dyspeptic.  There isn’t enough Zantac and Prevacid on the planet to quell their upset.

There is a common saying in the car business that a young person won’t buy an old person’s car, but an old person will buy a young person’s car.

At a post-Supra, post-Celica Toyota, there wasn’t a whole lot there for young people.  So back in the early ‘00s, Toyota execs undoubtedly calculated the way the average age of a Toyota buyer would creep ever upward, and Lexus products weren’t exactly the ticket for taking down the average age of the demographic.

They launched Scion.

While probably no one—even at Scion—has a clear remembrance of the xA, everyone remembers the original, boxy xB.  The xB was a variant of a Japanese domestic model—or a “JDM” in the parlance of those who sought after products of that derivation—the bB.

In 2003 Scion sold 6,936 xBs.  By 2006 that number was up to 61,306.  Yes, the numbers dropped off for the second-generation model, but that initial run-up was the sort of thing that OEM sales execs dream of.

In 2004 Scion brought out the tC, a coupe that had class-above amenities and execution.  That car was to go on to become the biggest-seller in the brand’s lineup, with 418,235 units sold through 2015.  In 2006 Scion sold 79,125 tCs, a record for the brand.

In 2012 it released the FR-S, a sports car that it developed with Subaru.  There it is, a vehicle with 200 hp and a curb weight of just 2,758 pounds, a coefficient of drag of merely 0.27, and a base MSRP of $24,200.  Automobile magazine named it an “All-Star”; Car and Driver put it on the list of “10 Best Cars of 2013.”

Isn’t it possible that the brand that was associated with youth culture like no other vehicle this side of something from Skate One, a brand that had cars like the tC and the FR-S, left the aforementioned late middle-aged critics realizing that they couldn’t get by as being young even if they bathed in Grecian Formula?

How could Toyota do that to them!?!  Didn’t the Toyota execs know that “kids don’t buy cars”?  How would they look if they went into a Scion showroom or be seen driving to the chiropractor in an FR-S?

Turns out that while “kids” didn’t buy Scions, comparatively young(er) people did, with the average age of a buyer being 36 for the brand overall, and 29 for the tC—the lowest average aged buyer in the entire industry.

There is something else that is interesting to note about Scion.

If it is a “failure” in any sense, then many brand managers probably wish they could fail like Scion.

Last year the brand sold 56,167 cars.  Not a huge number, and not Scion’s lowest.  That occurred in 2010, when 45,678 vehicles were moved off of lots and into driveways.

But let’s look at how some other brands did in 2015.

Fiat sold 42,410 cars.  At smart the number was merely 7,484.  How bad is 56,167?

Scion didn’t have any trucks or crossovers in its lineup.  So if we look at some other nameplates and look purely at their car sales we discover that Mitsubishi sold 39,321 cars and Volvo 23,253.

And because crossovers and SUVs are currently all the rage, know that in 2015 Volkswagen delivered a total of 42,880 Tiguans and Touaregs.

One more. MINI is a darling of many of those who decried Scion.  In 2015 MINI delivered 58,514 vehicles—just 2,347 more units than Scion.

Scion didn’t fail.  It probably did what it needed to do, whether it was to change the perspective of some people at Toyota dealerships (Scion stores were housed within the main brand’s stores) thanks to things like “Pure Pricing” (it costs what it costs) or to make some people at Toyota Motor Sales HQ in Torrance, California, realize that if they’re going to keep having the number-one selling car in the U.S. (Camry has won it for 14 years), then they’re going to have to include young(er) people in their product perspectives.

Another thing to know: 70 percent of Scion buyers were new to Toyota.  Last year, that means some 39,316 buyers.  Not a huge number.  But not a trivial one, either.