The Death of a Scion

Here’s the thing,

This year will see the demise of Toyota’s hip, young brand of brightly colored entry-level vehicles. That’s right, Scion will cease to be. The brand that brought you the quirky xB, the “was that a Smart Car?” iQ, and the second-coming of the Celica FR-S is knocking on Heaven’s door. For a lot of people, the brand never made sense. They were sold exclusively out of Toyota dealerships, used Toyota parts, and shared much more than a familial similarity with their more stalwart brethren. The truth of the matter is that they didn’t need to die, but Toyota life-supported the brand long ago.

File:Scion logo.png

The truth of the matter is that Scion started out as a kind of experiment, but when it ended up working out, Toyota didn’t know what to do with it. The first-gen xB was a huge hit, with an unbelievable amount of the ones on the road in the possession of loving owners. These owners ranged from artists who saw the car as their blank canvas, to bone-stock model enthusiasts, to creative entrepreneurial types running fledgling DJ and food cart businesses out of the back. The next in line for that success was the tC. The car’s outward appearance was somewhere between a lava-rock and a bar of soap, but what it represented was something Toyota had lacked for a long time: it was a safe coupe for the masses. It was something that young people weren’t embarrassed to be seen in, that parents felt good giving them. All the better that they fit right in the driveway behind dad’s Camry and mom’s Highlander.

There was a third model too, it was called the xA. It was so terrible that Scion replaced it with after a few years with an equally terrible model called the xD. I’m not sure anyone even noticed. Then the xB and the tC entered their second generations…

As it turns out, customer don’t like cars that are a complete 180 from their older selves, or ones that don’t change enough to even be able to tell the difference. Scion somehow managed to pull off both within just years of each other. The xB went from a spacious and lithe runabout to a tank-styled pseudo-SUV. Meanwhile the tC got a flatter section on the roof and gained .1 liter of displacement in the engine. Obviously neither of these were particularly good marketing moves, and you have to wonder how a company as successful as Toyota could be behind them both. What’s worse, they were both left to languish in those forms in almost twice the average lifespan of an automotive generation.

A couple years ago, they attempted to shaking things up by introducing the rear-wheel drive FR-S. While the car was a good first step towards sprucing up the brand, it was the only effort, and became a half-baked one of sorts. The car came with a paltry (by today’s standards) 200 horsepower, and cost too much for what it was. You could walk into any Toyota dealership in the country, and walk out with one only after plunking down $26,000. And remember, this is Scion, so no negotiating possible. The car was exceptionally balanced and a good drive, but was slow and ultimately unsatisfying for customers with any more than novice-level driving ability. When fans clamored for more, Toyota responded with a string of concepts, never to be built, and the unfortunate attitude that they knew best for consumers. Even in the rare case that you do know the best for people, they hate when you tell them that.

So after running a brand with no clear vision, and no support to fix things from a parent company that was content to sell their own cars simply off the laurels of their past models, Scion was left with no way out. To say the brand has been atrophied the last 2-3 years is another one of those criminal understatements. So now, Toyota is mercy killing a brand it left to starve in the wilderness to begin with. I would see more justice if Scion somehow were able to do the opposite. However when an arm cuts itself off, your left with a one-armed man not a manless arm.

So what did Toyota learn from its experiment? Well I’m hoping they learn the cost of doing a project to the least of their abilities. Creating a new brand out of thin air is no doubt a costly endeavor, the rebranding alone would be a fortune. It cost even more when just over 10 years later, it’s all for naught and you’re forced to re-integrate any of its remaining assets into your parent company. This is all to say that I will miss the Scion brand. I’ve seen first-generation xBs made into rolling sushi bars, and I’ve seen turbocharged tCs embarrass cars it has no business to. But what I can assure you is that a brand that was created to touch lives will most likely be remembered for the aimless vehicles it shamelessly cast off its lots the last years it was around. That is undeniably a shame.

And that, that’s the thing.

-Shawn

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