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Scion was introduced in March, 2002, the second channel that Toyota established in the U.S. market following its launch of Lexus in 1989.
Last year, Scion had three cars in the market, the xB, the tC, and the xD. And compared with 2009 sales figures, they were all down, with the xB off 19.5%, the tC by 15%, and the xD down 29.8%. Yet Jack Hollis, Scion vp, perhaps evincing the sort of spirit that one would find characteristic of a competitor (he was a member of Stanford’s NCAA National Baseball Championship team and with the Cincinnati Reds for three seasons), is optimistic that the “experiment” that is Scion—yes, he uses the word—is not only working, but will come into its own even more as the showroom increases this year with the addition of the iQ, a micro-subcompact car (it is just 120.1-in. long, 66.1-in. wide, 59.1-in. high, and has a 78.7-in. wheelbase), and next year with what is today the FR-S concept.
We sat down with Hollis just after unveiling the front-engine, rear-drive, sports car equipped with 2.0-liter boxer engine to get his assessment of Scion.
The Pillars: Hollis says that there were three pillars that Scion was established with that continue today: “Attract consumers that wouldn’t traditionally consider a Toyota; appeal to a younger consumer; try new things for Toyota and Lexus.”
As for the first, he says, “Almost 70% of our buyers are new to the Toyota family.” The second, “We’ve maintained the youngest median age buyer in the industry for the last eight years.” And the third: “The higher volume you have, the less nimble you can be. The bigger the volume, the less experimental.” So Scion is doing things that others aren’t.
Case in point: the tC. While small sports coupes are fading from the scene, tC is actually showing considerable strength.
“The minicar hasn’t really been addressed—yes, the smart car is out there—but we’re doing it with the iQ.”
FR-S as Scion: “Yoshimi Inaba”—the top Toyota executive in North America—“and Akio Toyoda”—president of Toyota Motor Corp. worldwide—“are putting an investment in Scion. The brand is strong, it is going to grow, it is going to be emotional, and we’re going to have fun with it.”
While the car known as the “FR-S” is a Scion, it is going to appear elsewhere in the world as a Toyota (“FT-86” is the name of the concept at present). Hollis admits that this was a decision made by top management to underscore Scion.
The Challenge: There is a huge demographic shift. Through Scion, Toyota is working to appeal to those who are 34 and younger. Much younger. Says Hollis, “When you and I turned 16, we were at the DMV the next day. A license allowed me to go across town, to take my girlfriend out, to go to a ball field. It became part of my social life. Cars aren’t needed the same way today.” He points out that for many young people, their social life is found on their phones or on-line.
“It is imperative that OEMs address this,” he says, adding, “Every car company did a good job selling to the Baby Boomers.” But that was then, and this isn’t.
“We have to create more emotional, fun-to-drive products,” Hollis says. “We have to make it so they want the car.”—GSV