Still Scion After All These Years

Scion has always been a bit, well, quirky. And perhaps in keeping with that off-beat approach to the industry, it is launching two entirely different vehicles—a sedan and a hatch—at the same time. Which, when you realize that they represent 40% of the showroom (the other cars being the FR-S, tC and xB), is somewhat . . . unusual.

Think about it: according to Doug Murtha, group vice president, Scion, the purpose of this brand is, and has been for the past 12 years, since it rolled out in 2003 with the xB (and the xA, but let’s face it, that is something that’s primarily remembered by, well, Scionistas), to reach buyers who are under 35 years old. The goal is to attract new buyers.

Aren’t these the same people who may be more inclined to, say, Uber their way around the urban environment? People who may be disinterested in cars? People who can’t particularly understand the methodology of car shopping when practically everything else they buy can be accessed via a keyboard, virtual or actual? Yes.

And so Murtha says that there are four pillars of what it is to be Scion:
• Distinctive products
• Unique purchase process
• Platform for experimentation
• Attract new buyers
    
Clearly, the first two are meant to accomplish the last. And the “Platform for experimentation” is one of the reasons why Scion has existed within Toyota for the past 12 years (launched in June 2003, initially in California only).

But Murtha acknowledges that they have to do a better job on the last point. According to Toyota’s own numbers, Scion moved just 58,009 vehicles in 2014, which is off 15.1% from the previous year.

By way of context, realize that in the month of December 2014, Toyota sold 31,618 Camrys, or more than half (54.51%) of the number of all Scion models in the full year of 2014.

Which leads Murtha and his team to introduce two new Scions simultaneously, the iM and the iA.

The second first, the iA, as this is a vehicle that is somewhat different than what one might expect from a Toyota company. No, not that it is a car that has rather polarizing styling, especially the front end (Murtha: “Some of the criticism we took on the iA was for its styling. That was the number-one attraction for people who like the car.” Which makes sense: if you are attracted to the car, you’re going to find it attractive.” But he also adds that the iA provides the “necessary polarization that is suitable for the Scion brand.” It should be noted that Murtha says the median age of the intended buyer for the iA is 35, with more than half of the likely customers being under 35. What’s more, in the entry sedan segment, which he expects to have annual total sales of 250,000 per year [all manufacturers, not just Scion, and this is a segment that includes the Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, and Hyundai Accent], 75% are first-time new buyers and 40% are replacing used cars. Murtha says they’re anticipating sales of the iA to be on the order of 30,000 to 40,000.)

No, what is rather unusual about the iA—in addition to the fact that it is the brand’s first sedan—is that one could argue that it is not a Toyota, but rather a Mazda. Specifically, the new Mazda2. The chief engineer for the vehicle, Ayumu Doi, works for Mazda, not Toyota.

And the vehicle is being built at the Mazda Motor Manufacturing de Mexico plant in Salamanca, which also produces the 2.0-liter Mazda3 sedans that are sold in North America (with the 2.5-liter Mazda3 sedans and all hatches coming from Japan).

According to Dave Lee, Scion product expert, who spoke to Doi about the vehicle, the chief engineer is most pleased with the high-strength steel chassis structure, which provides the rigidity required for good handling yet, at the same time, the ability to absorb crash energy in case of a collision.

The body structure is composed of straight beams wherever possible, which is said to provide a more cohesive whole. There is an H-shaped ring that joins the roof and the B-pillars to the underbody to create a more robust structure for the vehicle.

It is worth noting that the safety aspects of the iA are not all predicated on steel. Remarkably, there is a standard low-speed pre-collision system that deploys a laser sensor; it alerts the driver if a collision is imminent and there is a brake override function.

The car is powered by a 1.5 liter four that produces 106 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. As this is an entry-level car, it is available with a six-speed manual transmission, or for $1,100 more (to $16,800), a six-speed automatic. (The automatic actually provides better EPA estimated fuel economy, 33 city/42 highway/37 combined miles per gallon vs. 31 city/41 highway/35 combined for the manual.) While the engine output isn’t all that remarkable, it should be noted that the vehicle has a curb weight of 2,385 lb. for the manual and 2,416 lb. for the automatic.

The iM, a subcompact hatch, is a more interesting proposition. For one thing, Murtha points out that the category—which includes the VW Golf, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, and Mazda3—represents sales on the order of 500,000 units per annum. They are targeting the more youthful end of that cohort, as they’re hoping to reach a median age buyer of 35 while the collective competitors have, he says, a median-age of 52 years. (The point here is that Scion is meant to be a feeder into Toyota, then to Lexus: get them young(ish) then keep them if you can.)

Listen to iM deputy chief engineer Kunihiko Endo of the car that is a variant of the European Toyota Auris: “The iM is an example of Waku Waku Doki Doki. What does Waku Doki mean? It means driving pleasure and adding excitement to our cars. And why do I say each word twice? Because we’re twice as excited about the iM.”

He adds, “But the biggest reason we are excited about the iM is its driving dynamics. It is based on the same platform as the Scion tC, including a double-wishbone rear suspension for ideal handling.”

If there is a car that has provided Scion with street-cred and sales (last year, according to Autodata, the tC was the best-selling Scion, with sales of 17,947), it is the tC.

But before getting carried away and describing it as some sort of hot-hatch, Endo says, “Our goal was to create an emotional, efficient and environmentally responsible vehicle.”

However, there is a line of Toyota 


Racing Development (TRD) performance accessories (e.g., air intake system, sway bar, lowering springs) developed for the car.

The vehicle is powered by a 137-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that is mated to either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). As is the case with the iA, the automatic transmission provides better fuel economy than the manual, with an EPA estimated 28 city/37 hwy/32 combined for the CVT and 27 city/36 hwy/31 combined for the manual.

The iMs for the U.S. market are being produced at the Tsutsumi Plant in Toyota City. (As this is the Auris, too, there is production for that version at the Toyota plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire, U.K.)

Murtha anticipates sales in the mid-20,000 range—with the confidence, he adds, “that if the demand is there, the supply will be there.”

After all, the Toyota Production System is all about pull, and when you’re building a car in Toyota City . . .