It’s official – after 14 years as Toyota’s “youth oriented” brand, Scion will cease to be after the 2016 model year. How did this happen to the brand that had the hip xB and the enthusiast favorite FR-S? I have some theories on that.
(Editor’s Note: Multiple members of our staff were moved to eulogize Scion. If you read my recent thoughts about Scion—which likely played into the final decision at Toyota HQ—you’ll know that I thought this was the right move.)
The Scion brand came to the US in 2002, and began selling the boxy-but-good xB and the less popular xA the following year (or two, depending on where you lived), followed by the sporty looking tC coupe. In 2007 Scion had the lowest median customer age of any company at 39 years old, but that misses the mark of the “Generation Y” demographic they were aiming for by a mile. A major problem in any plan that tries to market cars to “the youth” is that young people often can’t afford a new car. They may not be driving clunkers, but they may go for a decent used car rather than paying extra for a new one. Daewoo learned this the hard way when they tried selling their new cars to college students, a demographic that is traditionally beyond broke. It’s no wonder that brand only lasted four years in the US.
Scion focused on small economical cars at a time when everyone wanted trucks and SUVs. Though surging gas prices in the mid-2000s may have contributed to the xB’s success as an economical alternative, there’s little point in selling vehicles with small profit margins that people don’t actually want.
No haggle pricing was a good unique way to set themselves apart from those other brands with the typical dealer experience people seem to hate. But it can also hurt at times. The Subaru BRZ is priced slightly higher than the Scion FR-S and includes more standard equipment. However, I actually bought my BRZ for less than an FR-S, which was the main reason I went with the Subaru version instead. (That, and World Rally Blue is awesome.) No haggling can save time and trouble, but it also deprives Scion of the opportunity to match or beat someone else’s price. I would’ve given my local Scion dealer a chance to beat the Subaru’s price if they would’ve let me.
After a bit of success with the xB, Scion redesigned it for 2008 – and got it wrong. Sales plummeted after the first year, and never matched those of the original. The xB lost its boxiness, and with that its uniqueness. It became just another bland bubbly crossover wanna-be in an ocean of similar cars.
Then again, Scion hasn’t had a clear direction since their original failed youth oriented intentions. They went smaller, not bigger, with the Smart car sized iQ. They replaced the xA with the xD, but both were based on the Toyota ist, so why the name change? The FR-S is the closest thing Scion ever had to a halo car, and it’s very good, but it has virtually nothing to do with the practical, economical hatchbacks that make up the rest of the Scion line.
And then there’s the tC. Before the FR-S, this was Scion’s “sporty” car. This could have been the new Celica. It’s a good looking, sporty, front wheel drive, hatchback coupe, like the Celica before it. Unfortunately, its sporting pretensions only went skin deep on production models. It remained a closer match to the baseline Celica ST than the more sporty GT and GT-S versions. It looks like a sports car but drives like Corolla. Granted, this is exactly what many people want, but by not offering more sporty versions that could actually perform, it lost its credibility as a sporty car. Sure, some people drifted and drag raced tCs, but they were heavily modified and didn’t resemble the version you or I could buy very much at all. The FR-S replaced the tC as Scion’s sporty car, but the tC awkwardly continued on as well, despite not really having a clear purpose.
Scion has done a major about-face over the past year. The unpopular xB and xD are gone. They’ve introduced the iM, which is basically the return of the Toyota Matrix. The thing is, the Matrix was just discontinued in 2013 (2014 in Canada) due to poor sales. What is the point of introducing a “new” car that’s essentially the same thing that failed?
Even more baffling is the iA, which is nothing more than a rebadged Mazda2 with an ugly nose. I won’t hurt your eyeballs with a picture of that, but I will show you this interior photo – the Scion iA on the left, and the Mazda CX-3 on the right. the only difference is the badge on the steering wheel. Why? What’s the point of Toyota slapping a Scion badge on a Mazda, and doing it on a sedan that isn’t going to sell well? Of course, Toyota has put their name on stranger things – for example, the Chevy Cavalier.
I’ve seen this cycle before in another brand – one that prided themselves on being different than the rest, sold only small economical cars when SUVs were all the rage, offered no haggle pricing, and that floundered to find an identity toward the end. Their name was Saturn. They died in 2009. Oldsmobile also had a bit of an identity crisis just before they shut down in 2004. Scion has been repeating this cycle for the past several years. I’ve frequently called Scion the new Saturn. I’ve been hopeful that they would change their ways, find a direction, and become successful. I’ve often thought that the opportunity was ripe to turn Scion into a performance brand, with the FR-S, a new MR2, a tC worthy of replacing the Celica, and whatever else Toyota wanted to try selling to enthusiasts while leaving the Lexus and Toyota brands alone. Jason Torchinsky had some interesting ideas as well. But nobody listened to us, and Scion, as we know it, is now dead.
The FR-S will continue on as a Toyota. I hope they properly rename it the GT86. The inexplicable iA and iM will carry on as well, most likely because they were only just introduced. And the tC will have one last hurrah in a “final release series edition” and end production in August. Will we miss them? Given the current lineup, probably not. Instead I’ll miss what they could have been.