CC Discussion: The Scion Brand At Ten Years – Where Does This Road Lead?

Creating an entirely new automotive brand must be like scaling Mt. Everest; extremely difficult and fraught with danger. Both endeavors also feature one distinct trend: extremely high mortality rates. The past decade has seen some brands wither and die and others newly born. Toyota’s 21st-century creation is an example of the latter. But is it successful?

Many of you will most likely respond by saying “no,” and I’d be inclined to agree with you. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the brand, but Toyota likely isn’t popping any champagne corks to commemorate the occasion. Only this week it was announced that dealers can walk away from the brand without penalty. So what happened?

Actually, it’s more of what didn’t happen. Millenials grew up to face a hostile job market to which their parents themselves could have also become victims. And what boomers were left unscathed likely scaled back their purchasing decisions. They also started buying the damn cars for themselves (right, Paul?). I’m sure there were many Toyota board meetings that ended in either screaming matches or head scratching, but that isn’t where Scion’s woes end.

To say the least, it’s tricky creating an entire product line based on such an ephemeral concept as youth. It’s one thing to launch an automotive luxury brand; in fact, I’d argue it’s simpler, since luxury doesn’t really change all that much. On the other hand, youth does no such thing. There are some similarities among generations, but the changing tastes of young people last about as long as a sun shower–and they’re currently focused on electronic gadgetry of the non-mobile sort.

So we have a poor economy and shifting cultural trends, coupled with a brand inexorably tied towards wooing a demographic that still has to worry about final exams, for the most part. All of this has impacted the Scion brand over the last ten years. So has their product.

I’m not going to discuss every single Scion here, largely because I think the merits of each individual model aren’t exactly subtle, nor are they meant to be. And that’s what the brand had going for it when it launched vehicles like the tC and xB. I’ve only been a passenger in a tC, but I came away impressed. It had a decent stereo, taut handling, and high-quality interior materials.

Of course, that was over five years ago. Since then, automakers like Ford have seriously stepped up their game in the small-car department and created vehicles featuring all the qualities listed above. Hell, even Honda stumbled a bit with their current-generation Civic while trying to figure out what their customers wanted. The point is that product-wise, Toyota needs to figure out this brand. How can they do it? Here is my advice:

1. Make a Suzuki Kizashi-size sedan to be positioned and priced between the Corolla and Camry.

2. ???

3. Profit.

Honestly, I’m really not sure what solutions for Scion would look like; after all, I’m not even certain this brand represents a failure for Toyota. Does it cost them much money to operate? I doubt it. They could at least advertise around The Walking Dead, which I’m pretty sure worked for Hyundai.

So what do you say, commentariat? Is the Scion brand a true failure for Toyota, or merely a dud? In any case, where do you think it should go from here?