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Bringing the xB

Every panel is different, but the news is under the hood.

Jin Won Kim is a design team leader at Calty Design Research (Newport Beach, CA). Kim designs cars. And trucks. Kim has been at Toyota’s West Coast studio for some five-and-a-half years since his graduation from Art Center in Pasadena in 2001.
For some designers, after five-and-a-half years having a production car they’ve designed is something yet to be attained. For Kim, that’s not the case. The exterior design of the Toyota FJ Cruiser: That’s his. While the FJ is no Camry or Tundra in terms of volume, it is an iconic vehicle in the Toyota lineup. It is a vehicle that is more significant than its sales number alone would indicate (i.e., the FJ—which follows the FJ40 that was sold in the U.S. from 1960-83—numbers zealots among its purchasers; the Camry has buyers).

Kim has also had his work spotlighted on important show cars that may foreshadow things to come. He was the principal designer of the Lexus LF-C that debuted at the 2004 New York International Auto Show. He also contributed to the Toyota FT-HS that was unveiled at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

What is truly notable about the recent undertakings of Jin Kim—especially for what Mark Templin, vp of Scion, described as “nearly a half-a-million passionate owners,” a number that is all the more significant when you take into account that Scion launched in California in June 2003 and didn’t complete its national rollout for another year—is that he is the man who designed the exterior of the second-generation Scion xB. Although the xB was outsold by the tC in 2006 (61,306 units versus 79,125), the xB—the boxy one—is clearly the quintessential Scion.

Kim said the ’08 xB is predicated on the design of the concept t2B, which was introduced at the 2005 New York International Auto Show. Kim explained that the question he considered when undertaking the design for that vehicle was: “There is a pure box”—meaning the original, first-gen ’04 xB—“where do you go from there?” The answer to that question wasn’t found in some isolated, sterile think tank. It wasn’t found in a design studio (messy or otherwise). Rather, it was synthesized as a result of direct experience with people are among those whom Scion marketers and execs have ID as those they want to put into boxes and other wheeled shapes. Templin, again: “From the beginning, Scion has been targeting a mere 10% of the 142 million people in the U.S. under 35 years old.” These are “young urban trendsetters.” These are people “who never considered a Toyota.” These are people who have probably never heard of Huey Lewis but know that it is hip to be square.

As part of a research project, Kim spent three months in Manhattan, hanging out with the people who are among the cohort of coolhunters, bzz agents, and metrophiles that the brand covets and cultivates through various non-traditional activities (e.g., wild postings, street team giveaways, music events, art shows, and things other than what is ordinarily done in getting people interested in cars and trucks: there were no TV commercials or print ads for the ’08 xB pre-launch, which borders on some sort of marketing heresy).

And from the research there resulted, Kim recalled, three key qualities that he worked to incorporate into the design of the t2B: Honesty. Subtlety. Irony. And these are words that were translated into the xB.

The first he described as “purity in design.” Given that the xB is almost Euclidian in form (square, circle), the elemental simplicity is almost inherent.

The subtlety takes form in the execution of details. Kim pointed to the grille of the xB, for example. Ordinarily, a grille has a consistent (monotonous) form: slats, mesh, egg crate, whatever. The grille that adorns the front of the ’08 xB consists of circles of varying diameters, some that join like patterns in an artificial life program (complexity born(e) of simplicity).

Finally, irony. This leads back to the original xB, which was based on (or actually is) the JDM—that’s “Japan Domestic Market”—Toyota bB. The original is truly “B” as in “box.” But for the t2B, and the Scion To Be, the execution is predicated on the ADM—the American Domestic Market. So the car is bigger than the predecessor in dimension and mass. As in:

’07 xB’08 xB
Wheelbase:98.4 in.102.4 in.
Overall length:155.3 in.167.3 in.
Width:66.5 in.69.3 in.
Height:64.6 in.64.7 in.
Mass (auto trans.)2,450 lb.3,086 lb..

 

In this two-box design, the front box is longer to accommodate the bigger engine (from a 1.5-liter, 103-hp four to a 2.4-liter, 158-hp four). In fact, the ’08 xB is based on a new platform. In Japan, the bB successor is not the one used for this xB. The JDM car is smaller. Lighter. So where’s the irony? Kim said that if you look at the side view of the ’08 xB, you may notice something that resembles something that is truly an American phenomenon: a high beltline, compressed greenhouse, and slightly raked roof: the hotrod. Even the aforementioned front end, Kim said, has more gesture and attitude than its predecessor. From the (somewhat) innocuous to the aggressive. In other words, it has become a slightly aggro but softened box, which is somewhat ironic.

How did the t2B translate to the production vehicle? Fairly closely. The t2B is slightly wider than the xB, at 70.5 in., and it is taller, at 67 in. It is a bit shorter, at 164.6 in. But Kim noted, “It is a show car.” Consequently, adjustments were made. The t2B has suicide doors on the driver’s side of the vehicle and on the passenger’s side the rear door is a slider. The xB has conventionally pivoting doors all around. The t2B has LED tail lamps. The xB has faux LEDs. But then again there is the difference between a show car essentially hand-built at Five Axis Design (www.5axismodels.net) which is, in effect, priceless, and a monospec xB with a base MSRP of $15,650 built by Toyota affiliate company Kanto Auto Works at its Iwate facility.

Kim commented: “One great thing about Toyota is that we have so many cars.” And it is fairly obvious that his design skills will be deployed for more of them as time goes on.

 

“Mono Spec”?

Scion has a slightly different approach to offering vehicles. Consider the xB. The customers select from one of six exterior colors (all interiors are a dark charcoal fabric) and whether they’re going to opt for a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic with sequential shift (this is the first sequential four-speed offered by Toyota). Among the standard fitments are power steering, windows, door locks, and mirrors; remote keyless entry; air conditioning; four-wheel ABS with both Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist; various airbags; Vehicle Stability Control with traction control; adjustable steering wheel with integrated audio controls.; etc. Then the “accessorization” or “personalization” begins, with a laundry list of options, ranging from audio alternatives to a special exhaust tip. Scion has a “Pure Price” approach, which means that the advertised price is the price. No “dealing” at the dealership. In addition to the accessories that one might ordinarily select at a dealership (e.g., floor mats), Toyota Racing Development (TRD) has created a variety of components specifically for the Scion lineup. So, for example, one can get a brake kit for the xB with upgraded rotors and calipers or an aluminum front strut brace or a limited slip differential. And in addition to that, there is what is called the “Optomize” program, that offers various aftermarket brands (from Alpine to Yakima) at the Scion dealership. 

 

The xD, too

The Scion xA has gone away. The Scion xD has emerged. While not exactly a replacement, there are some visual similarities between the two five-door hatches.

The xD is based on the same platform that’s used for the Toyota Yaris (see 2007 Toyota Yaris Hatchback and Toyota Doing It Differently). The exterior styling was performed by Toyota’s Tokyo Design Studio and the interior by ED2, the company’s European design studio. The engineering of the exterior, interior and electronics were the responsibility of Daihatsu Motor Co. (which produced the Scion xB). Compared with the xA, this is a bigger vehicle:

 
’06 xA
’08 xD
Wheelbase:
93.3 in.
96.9 in.
Overall length:
154.1 in.
154.7 in.
Width:
66.7 in.
67.9 in.
Height:
60.2 in.
60 in.
 

 

One thing that the xD brings to North America is the 2XR-FE 1.8-liter four cylinder engine that produces 128 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 125 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm. This engine has variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust cams relative to crank angle, which is technology available on the Toyota Avalon, Camry and Tundra models. The xD may be small, but it is no slouch. There is a four-speed electronically controlled transmission and a five-speed manual available for the vehicle. Suspension-wise there are McPherson struts in the front and a torsion beam rear suspension. (One interesting aspect of the rear suspension is that they’re using a hydroformed tube that is then formed into a V-shape which provides anti-roll stabilization without the need for a solid sway bar.) Electric power steering (with speed-sensing power assist) is deployed. An effort was made to reduce NVH. So countermeasures to address it include the use of 590 MPa high-tensile steel in the center pillar for reinforcements (which also contribute to a safer structure) as well as foam and felt in various parts of the car.

 

Observation

Yes, it’s about the cars. The xB, xD, and tC. But that is only part of it. One of the key factors behind the success of Scion—and realize that this success is measured not only in the sales of the vehicles—is that there is a recognition that product must be supplemented by service. But the sales in and of themselves are not trivial, especially when put into context of other brands. In 2006, 79,125 Scions were sold. That’s more than the sales of Jaguar (20,683) and Land Rover (47,774) combined. It is more than the 71,524 vehicles sold by Hummer. It is more than twice the number of Saabs sold in the U.S. in 2006, 36,349. To be sure, these are good, solid vehicles (e.g., 6% of the ’08 xB body is made with 590 MPa steel; 64% of the gross body weight is galvanized sheet). But what they have done at Scion is to create environments for its prospects and its customers that keep them aware of Scion in somewhat subtle ways. For example, there is the extensive use of the Internet. There is the support of up-and-coming artists. Concerts and club events. While many car brands are now engaged in such activities, with Scion it is almost as if once the artist or musician “makes it,” then Scion moves its support to the up-and-coming, not glomming on to what are the “brand names” that are often related to major brands.

One of the points that has been regularly made by the executives of Lexus is that the vehicles are only part of the equation. It should come as no surprise that Mark Templin was vice president of Lexus marketing before assuming the vice president position at Scion. And what is telling about Toyota’s on-going strategy in the market is that Jim Farley, the recently named group vice president and general manager of Lexus, has served as vice president of Scion (with a stint as group vice president of Toyota Group marketing in between).

Here’s something that most vehicle brands would covet: the median age of Scion drivers is 30. According to Templin that makes it “the youngest brand in the industry.” Those 30 year olds have more cars in their future.

And here’s the real kicker: “Nearly 80% of our customers are new to Toyota and for those Scion owners who have already replaced their Scion, eight out of the top ten replacement models are from the Toyota family,” according to Templin. What’s the number-one Toyota vehicle they move to? The best-selling car five years running: the Camry.