Whether you ever owned one or not, it’s hard to imagine Scion disappearing from the face of the earth forever. While it may not have been an industry-rattling powerhouse or a leading innovator in the development of new technologies, the Toyota spinoff certainly still managed to make its mark on the automotive landscape here in the States.
For millennials, the brand holds an extra special place in their hearts, with many of them being quick to recall the first time they saw a boxy little xB or tightly lined tC on campus during one of the brand’s early marketing pushes. People bought up the quirky brand with relish too, as the wake left by the second installment of the Fast & Furious franchise kept kids pining for things like performance bolt-ons, neon lighting, and carbon fuel tank doors.
But over the course of the next dozen years Scion struggled to connect with its target market, as millennials finished college and began to buy more “grown-up” automobiles. Releasing automobiles like the iQ didn’t help much either, and before long even the once mighty xB and tC platforms had lost their appeal with buyers. Even the return of the rear-wheel drive “Hachi-Roku” in FR-S form couldn’t stop sales from slipping, and although the platform made it a great driver’s car, purists felt it failed to live up to its true potential by remaining naturally aspirated.
Then, on February 3, 2016, Toyota announced it would be retiring the brand permanently, despite the fact that more than a million Scions had hit the streets over the years, with 70% of its buyers being new to the Toyota brand. But unfortunately, recent numbers paint a different picture: Just 56,167 units left dealer lots in 2015, or about 10,000 units fewer than the Ford F-Series sells in a month.
Jim Lentz, founding vice president of Scion and current CEO for Toyota Motor North America, chooses to put aside the hard times, instead recalling the high points and focusing on the future. “Scion has allowed us to fast track ideas that would have been challenging to test through the Toyota network,” he says. “I was there when we established Scion and our goal was to make Toyota and our dealers stronger by learning how to better attract and engage young customers. I’m very proud because that’s exactly what we have accomplished.”
According to Toyota, Scion has been implementing a sell-down process to clear out any remaining inventory, and the official shutdown date, including deactivation of the website and all social channels, is September 30. So before the lights go out and Scion makes its final curtain call, here are eight things that we’ll miss about the brand, and how in certain ways Toyota’s quirky spinoff changed the automotive game forever.
1. Lab rat mindset
Since its inception, Scion has played a crucial role as a lab rat for various products, sales strategies, and marketing techniques. Toyota is a massive company, so in order to see what works and what doesn’t without jeopardizing the greater good, Scion played the guinea pig for the Japanese automaker. A lot of valuable lessons were learned over the years from the side-brand’s successes and failures, and being that Scion is so much smaller than Toyota and Lexus, setbacks were both easier to amend and far less expensive.
2. Haggle free is the way to be
Here’s a prime example of something Scion did right, and Toyota has since taken the idea and turned it into a major campaign. Once dealers and customers got used to a set-price system, they both breathed a sigh of relief, as the need to haggle immediately went out the window. The move made it more pleasant for customers because they didn’t have to fret over being ripped off, and the salesperson didn’t have to stress over starting and winning a bidding war. Lexus took the program and ran with it after Scion proved its worth.
3. Mad respect for the mono-spec
OK, so there were some TRD upgrade options like lowering springs, exhaust upgrades, and even a supercharger for the old tC, but performance upgrades aside, things were quite simple when it came to selecting a model that was not a limited production run. Buyers only had to ask themselves two questions when selecting a Scion, which took a lot of guess work out of the equation, and we liked that a lot:
No. 1: What transmission do you want, automatic or manual?
No. 2: What color strikes your fancy?
4. Personalize and be recognized
While getting an iM to the point where it looks like a Crooks and Castles widebody takes some serious aftermarket support and a fair deal of shop time, the array of over-the-counter parts available to Scion customers was always pretty impressive. Remember, Scion emerged at the tail end of import tuning’s golden era, so everyone was looking to customize their rides. Offering buyers the chance to get performance parts with Toyota-grade reliability, and have them installed at the dealer prior to pick-up made for a lot of TRD sales. In its heyday, Scions could be outfitted with everything from superchargers and stiffer sway bars, to lowering springs and cat-back exhaust systems, all at an affordable price, and all with a warranty.
5. Buy online and finance without worry
Scion’s “Pure Process Plus” was a way for people to find a car online, configure it, and get all of their financial ducks in a row without ever needing to leave the comfort of the couch. Once a vehicle with the right color and gearbox was chosen, Scion would either find a dealer who already had the car, or have one built for the customer. After that, the brand’s “Pure Price” guaranteed that the dealer’s advertised bottom line matched what the buyer was willing to pay, while allowing all the financial details to work themselves out via online credit pre-approval. Once financing was squared away, all you had to do was schedule an appointment with a local Scion dealer and go pick up your car.
6. A big boost in service
Scion was the first to introduce a program like “Service Boost,” which was a no-cost dealership maintenance plan that included roadside assistance during the coverage period, something that was unheard of at the time for budget focused brands. Although 2 years/25,000 miles of coverage isn’t great by today’s standards, it was a major selling point for first time car buyers back in 2004, and paved the way for even better warranties down the line. For additional coverage, buyers could also opt for “Service Boost Plus,” which extended the maintenance plan to cover factory-recommended maintenance all the way up to 5 years or 75,000 miles.
7. Catch and release
Scion did a great job of rolling out limited edition iterations of every car in its lineup over the years, which were commonly referred to as “Release Series” vehicles. All of these limited edition models came with things like unique aero and interior updates, sunroofs, one-off wheels, mood lighting, and more. From the early days, when the xA came equipped with 17-inch, 6-spoke Enkei alloys and a mesh grille, to the final run of the xB Parklan Edition, Release Series models helped make Scion special, and dammit if it didn’t make a lot of them look sharp.
8. Grassroots marketing
Because Scion was so small and unorthodox, it had the ability to pull off some seriously cool, oddball marketing campaigns. Much of Scion’s target market likely learned about the brand when they were on campus, when a group of young adults in Scion gear gave them the chance to explore the xA, xB, and tC, like Red Bull reps with $20,000 sales pitches. Everything from music concerts and customized car campaigns to product demonstrations during Mardi Gras were fair game for the automaker, making for a great way for Toyota to run some fun marketing ideas.
While the brand did go belly-up, Scion’s successes and failures give us hope that Toyota will take these learning experiences and instill them into what’s left of the brand. Passing on this heritage to iM, iA, and 86 owners and reminding them that their cars come from a fun-filled family tree isn’t just a priority, it’s a necessity.
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