Final Inspection

Where Did Scion Slip? Let Me Count the Ways

Targeting cash-poor young buyers, selling products that made more sense as Toyotas, and recent uninspired advertising are just a few of the ways Scion got lost.

I’ve been covering Scion nearly as long as it’s been around and as much as I wanted to believe it could be the comeback kid, the brand struggled along year after year following its initial success between 2004 and 2006.

The latter year is when Scion hit a peak of 173,034 U.S. sales, a mark later deemed to be a fluke by Toyota officials.

Nevertheless, the brand’s great early results set the bar high, a bar the brand couldn’t help but underperform to as it targeted a population known more for its penchant for used cars.

I’m talking about “the youth.”

The U.S. auto industry’s continuing desire to attract the elusive young buyer is without hesitation. And it somewhat makes sense: You hook ’em young, and you’ve got ’em for life.

But in an increasingly competitive U.S. auto industry, with every brand in some way, shape or form targeting “the youth,” and with said youth having roughly 35 other mainstream brands to choose from, it’s not easy to keep anyone’s attention for long.

What’s more, the average age of the U.S. new car buyer is 52, NADA reported last year, because, not shockingly, that’s who has the money to afford a new car.

Yes, basing an entire brand around a demographic that doesn’t have a lot of cash, and a demographic saddled with increasing amounts of student-loan debt and needing creative financing at the dealership, could never have strong legs. Fewer younger people are getting their driver’s license, too, and more and more are choosing car-sharing instead of car-owning.

What’s more, the products were getting harder to justify.

Why sell the Scion iA, a rebadged version of the pretty-good Mazda2 subcompact, when Toyota’s own B-car, the Yaris, desperately could use the type of athleticism and style the iA offers?

Ditto the iM: It’s lost as a Scion, judging by its weak sales performance. Scion wanted to sell 40,000 annually but it is pacing well below that, with monthly sales of less than 2,000. Plus, the Corolla lacks the fun-to-drive halo the variant could provide that car’s lineup.

And why plan to sell the upcoming C-HR small CUV, in an uber-hot category of the U.S. market, as a Scion? It would never sell as many units as a Scion as it would if badged a Toyota, which it now will be upon its release next year.

And forget Scion-only models such as the tC ever happening again. Toyota couldn’t justify that kind of investment for such a low-volume brand.

While Scion likes to tout that 70% of its buyers were new to Toyota, early trade-in information for the iA and iM shows most of its buyers were getting out of Toyotas. It’s good to keep people in the family, but not at the expense of the parent brand.

Scion also has lost its advertising edge. The recent iA and iM ad campaign starring actor James Franco seemed flat in comparison to earlier, more progressive work. So many brands now rely on celebrities to pitch their products that Franco didn’t stand out.

Other brands, namely Kia and its dancing hamsters that pitch the xB-inspired Soul, took Scion’s innovative, quirky marketing and ran with it.

So, goodbye Scion. I’ll always love the first-gen tC, which had a European-luxury aura about it at a much lower price point. And the sharp-edged first-gen xB was a gutsy move. Without it the Soul, one of my favorite models, wouldn’t exist.

The FR-S is a hoot to drive and I’m glad it’s transitioning to Toyota.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to forget the iQ minicar.

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What's Final Inspection?

WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.


David E. Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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