A Toyota by Any Other Name

Something that was ultimately inevitable happened…

“Dearly beloved, we are here to remember the brand that was Scion.” Its overall master and overseer, Toyota, has ended the “youth” brand that was Scion and freed it from its holy bond with Earth. Whether your initial reaction is “Dang, that sucks” or “Good riddance”, there are definitely opinions regarding what Scion brought to the showrooms (or should’ve). Regardless, it’s easy to look back after things end and make observations; and here’s mine, guided and/or clouded by my experience owning many Toyotas.

(Editor’s Note: Multiple members of our staff were moved to eulogize Scion.  If you read my recent thoughts about Scionwhich likely played into the final decision at Toyota HQyou’ll know that I thought this was the right move.)

I’ve bought Toyotas since my teens (cough*90’s*cough). I developed an appreciation for them being dependable, efficient, and even managed to find some character in the most Desert Sand Mica Camry. I had friends who owned sportier versions like MR2s, Celicas, Supras, and even cool trucks too.  In the later 90’s Toyota came out with what I think was the most awful ad campaign ever. Everyday People.

I can appreciate the smallest detail in the blandest car, but in the days after the discontinuation of the Supra and Turbo MR2, hearing that “IIIIIIIIII am Everyday People” song played in Toyota commercials was borderline gut wrenching.  Nobody wants to really be considered an “everyday person” despite what Sly and The Family Stone might sing.

Toyota Celica GTS

Fortunately Toyota decided to mix things up a little bit. The Toyota Celica, while not everyone’s taste in styling was reintroduced with the 2ZZ-GE engine. In GT-S trim it would sing all the way up to 8200 rpm through a 6 speed manual. They also completely redesigned the MR-2 into a spyder, and while the engine was ho-hum, it was still fun to drive. Rounding it out was the Matrixessentially a Corolla wagonwith the option of AWD and the high revving 2ZZ-GE in XRS trim. There was finally some sporting potential again!  Then, damn and blast…the pricing kicked you in the teeth.  Many who were really interested in these cars, couldn’t afford them. What to do?

How about introduce a youth oriented brand, with cars that had more affordable pricing, and a wide range of factory accessories to make them “yours”? Boom! Scion!

Toyota initially chose two pretty good cars during the the initial launch, the xA and xB.  The latter had gobs of character and stood out on the road. You could get superchargers, wheels, body kits, suspension parts, interior illumination mods, all through TRD/Toyota. They followed up with the release of the very nicely packaged and priced tC coupe, and it was only a matter why shouldn’t I buy a Scion. Everyone from my generation knows at least one person who had a tC, modified or not. All should have been good!

Scion tCBut..it was not so.

This is how I saw it go down. First, the product line was too small, for too long. While the marketing was decent, and intended for youths, it wasn’t necessarily who the buyers were in real life. My then 80-year-old grandma considered and xA before buying her Yaris hatchback in 2006. She just didn’t need, or want, 4 doors.

I recall thinking back then “Why not just call them what they are? Toyotas”.  Sold in the same dealerships, people like my grandma could cross-shop them alongside normal Toyotas.

Maybe it was the fanboy in me talking, but there wasn’t really anything off-putting with regard to the Toyota brand image, specifically to the younger generation. There was no reason why you couldn’t buy a Toyota branded car and do cool things to it as you pleased. Of course some cars came more naturally to modification, but that’s the same for all the brands. It wasn’t really necessary for the new brand to be created when you could just bring the cars here, call them what they were, sell them for a fair price, and possibly make more money on maintenance/modifications.

About modifications. If you have somebody buy an inexpensive car with the thought of modifying it, it’s very, very, likely that they will do so through aftermarket means. That means less money being spent on Toyota/TRD branded parts. The argument that somebody who worked at Pizza Hut, and is working their way through community college would spend over 3 grand on a supercharger for a very small power boost was nonexistent. None of them would. The generation that should be into Scion was busy in school, or trying to pay off student loans. They will more likely buy a used car, if they even buy one in the first place. Newsflash, new cars are expensive and to buy something on the basis that it’s youth oriented doesn’t make sense to someone who is barely making ends meet because their temp job just covers their loan and housing. They’re certainly not going to buy modifications or add-ons. They will buy what they can afford. A Nissan Versa, Mitsubishi Mirage, etc… Cars less expensive than Scions. If a new car is a consideration.

Scion xB

Which brings me back to the eulogy and this unsurprising revelation of Scion’s demise.  The current xB and xD are long in the tooth to say the least.  Neither were really that appealing when new. I’m going to be harsh, but who at Toyota/Scion looked at the xD and said “Yes. This looks good. We will sell many of these.”? The car is labeled as x”D” because that’s really the grade it deserves. The current xB is the nearing middle-age, post metabolism, bloated, vehicular interpretation of what happened to the original generation that was supposed to buy it. Albeit with a 2.4L over the previous ones 1.5L. Yes, there was still some character, but they are cheesy in a 90’s Pontiac kind of way.

You may ask, why not just use cars from the Japanese or European domestic markets?

Because it is much more expensive than you’d think to get a car approved by the numerous authorities requited to sell here in the States, safety and environmental regulations being the biggest factors. Then there comes the ability to actually sell them in dealerships. Sure the Camry may not be as appealing to enthusiasts, but it sells so well because it has such broad appeal to those who need a decent car, not something that looks too flashy or too square. Character will always sell at first, but longevity is tough. Saab being the strongest case example. From 1979 to 1993, you could buy a Saab 900 and have it look like little else on the road. The problem was that, even though people who bought them loved them, not enough actually bought them. It continued through the rest of their history and we all know where Saab is now.

Scion’s gleam of hope was the FR-S. The great ZN6 chassis shared with the BRZ. I could argue that it should have been badged a Toyota GT-86, but Scion were given the golden egg. It sold very well at first, but lately not nearly as well. You can’t throw one good punch and expect to coast the rest of the fight.

Only later did the Scion brand see expansion. Once again, at any point, all the cars could have been badged as Toyotas. I thought the iQ was a great idea when compared to a Smart Car. Look at how well Smarts are selling now though. There is little case for a car this small in the US.

The iM. Duh, this is basically what the Matrix of today would be. Or sell it as a Corolla wagon/hatch. Not bad-looking, but is a wagon part of the Scion image? I thought manufacturers thought buyers thought that wagons or hatchbacks weren’t cool?

Scion iM

Then there’s the iA. Intelligence Artificial? A re-skinned Mazda 2 that pretty much should just be the Yaris sedan.

I do think that it was a nice idea to bring affordable cars with character to the buying public and I commend Toyota for it. There were several chances to capitalize that just weren’t taken and resulted in Toyota put its sub-brand out to pasture. I still “love what Toyota does for me” though and forgive them their mistakes. May we still see a broad range of interesting and affordable products in the United States and abroad under the Toyota badge.