Revitalizing Scion

This is the segment of RFD where we lament how things used to be in the new car market and curmudgeonly speculate at how they could get better.  Undoubtedly you’ve read my thoughts on how to bring back the fun to Honda, or Josh’s thoughts on where the long-in-the-tooth Nissan Z car belongs.  And yes, I realize that nobody from these automakers reads this, nor would they likely be inspired to make any sweeping changes based on an internet site run by enthusiasts.  But I don’t care, it makes me feel better.  So let’s get started.

For this iteration, I was going to take on Mitsubishi.  They were, at one point, purveyor or cool stuff like the 3000GT, the Eclipse (well the 1st and 2nd generation DSM at least), and the beastly Lancer Evolution.  My tact was much like my ramblings about Honda, check out their Japanese domestic market (JDM) offerings and figure out how to use some of that to reinvigorate the US lineup.  I’ve got some bad news though.  Their global showroom look a lot like their US showroom.  Sure, there’s a pickup truck and a couple of SUVs larger than the Outlander overseas, but nothing new and interesting, much less small and sporty.  I’d love to be proven wrong, but I don’t have high hopes for Mitsubishi.  However, we review press cars (among others), so I’m happy to sample some of the latest and see for myself how they are doing.  But for now, it’s time to move on.

I’m going to stay in Japan though, not because I don’t see fault in any of the European or American lineups, but because Scion needs to find it’s way.  That’s right, Scion, this is your life.  This is the bit where I troll though Wikipedia and toss out lots of interesting facts about the brand, its history in the US, and where we’re at with the current lineup. To know where you’re going, you should know where you’ve been.  Or in this instance, to know where you’ve screwed up so you don’t keep making the same mistakes.

Current Lineup

Scion has always been about image and style, the kind of stuff young people supposedly care about.  They are the more youthful Toyota with (mostly) 2-letter alpha-numeric names, interesting designs, and more enthusiast focused offerings.  Visit their current site and you are greeted with splashy graphics featuring fit football players and taglines like “equipped to exceed expectations”.  Which to me means that, if you buy a Scion, you’ll do well on your annual performance appraisal!  So that’s nice.  Unfortunately below the full page image of #89 doing his best Michael Jordan impersonation is a…well quite bland looking sedan.  It’s a Mazda2, but also a Toyota Yaris, if that makes any sense.  Made in Mexico, the 2016 Scion iA has a different front bumper and grille design and sports 106hp.  But that’s the entry level Scion, I’m sure things improve….right?

Scion iA
Expectations will be exceeded, even if you have bad credit. Or no credit.

Ah the xB, one of the first Scion’s to ever get my attention.  The first generation looked like the box another Scion came in, but was actually legitimately (kinda) cool and funky.  Over a decade later, and only on generation two, it’s become more rounded and boring.  If the first generation was a hip toaster you found in a little off-the-beaten-path store, this is the mass produced toaster you got at Macys.  Not nearly as interesting, but at least it’s economical.  Well, just.  At 22/28 MPG city/highway, it’s a decent option for someone who needs to move around some stuff, but doesn’t want a more mainstream compact crossover.  At sub $19,000, it’s not too terribly expensive, but it’s been in production for quite awhile and needs a fresh start to say the least.

Scion XB
Youths seen discussing the utility of their Scion xB.

Next comes a new member of the Scion family, the iM, and like it’s iA garage-mate, it’s based on something from the Japanese market, the Auris.  Hey, maybe Toyota does the same exercise I do and brought us a fast little hatchback.  Oh, no, it’s only got 137hp from a 1.8L engine.  At least it has an aggressive looking body kit and decent looking wheels.  And you can get a 6-speed manual.  What else is there?

Scion iM
Youths seen departing their Scion iM to do youthful things.

Ah the tC, named after a helicopter pilot on Oahu, the little 2-door…wait that’s not correct.  The tC has been around since the brand started in the US, and aside from some minor facelifts, looks almost exactly the same in it’s already-5-year-old second generation.  It’s got an ever larger engine, a 2.5L 4-cylinder, but still only puts out 179hp.  But you can get a manual, which is nice, but at over $20,000 it sits squarely between Ford’s ST options which are both faster and more practical.

Scion tC
Youths seen walking by a Scion tC and commenting “isn’t that due for a redesign”?

Finally the FR-S.  If you read RFD, you should know it well, as we have one!  Two actually, if you count the BRZ.  Naturally, I’ve driven it, and it’s a pretty cool car.  The debate about whether or not it’s underpowered rages on, but it’s a pretty solid car and the best representation of “youthful exuberance” in the lineup.  Starting at just over $26,000 though, I’m still going to have a hard time not peeking across at Ford’s lineup between the EcoBoost Fiesta and Focus, not to mention the turbocharged Mustang that our man (and BRZ owner) Justin enjoyed rallying.

Scion FR-S
Youth selfie with his FR-S, taken with a potato.

What To Do?

OK, it’s really easy to sit behind a keyboard and criticize, what do I propose they do about it?  Unfortunately, my first recommendation would be to…do away with Scion.  Saving, or revitalizing Scion, in my opinion, isn’t worth it.  While they typically only take up a corner of an already established Toyota dealership, the separate branding and marketing expense just doesn’t seem to deliver what was initially intended.  Scion was supposed to be a youth-focused brand, but most xB and xA buyers, at least in the early days, were older.  They likely came into the Toyota dealership to buy (another) Corolla and decided on something sportier (looking).  So I would re-brand the current lineup as Toyotas, and that’s just the start.  Give them real names, Toyota used to be known as a sporty and fun brand that also sold incredibly reliable family cars.  Circa Celica, Supra, MR2, etc.

The “Toyota GT-86” sounds pretty good, better than “FR-S” which has zero history to the name.  Sure the average buyer knows nothing about the ’86 heritage in Japan, but some of us do, and think it’s pretty cool.  Sell the iM as the Corolla wagon that it is, and re-brand the iA as the Yaris Sedan.  I’m not convinced that funky marketing and alpha-numeric brand names are selling cars.  A quick look at sales figures and most Scions sell in the 15,000 units a year range.  Not great, but not outstanding.  VW sells more GTI’s than pretty much any Scion, and that’s just one level of the large Golf lineup.  But this is just about branding, what if killing the brand isn’t on the table?

Give Scion the chance to be special, and a lineup of re-branded JDM cars isn’t the answer.  Well, it’s actually part of the answer, but not the answer.  The original formula with the early xA and xB worked because of price point and design.  The xB didn’t look like anything else on the road and you could get one for $15,000 or so, add some wheels and minor mods and you had a cool looking ride.  Looking across the original Scion lineup, the xA is (thankfully) gone, the xB isn’t special anymore, and I’m not sure the tC was ever all that special.  In fact, sadly, nothing in the current lineup is really all that special.  Offering manual transmissions on everything is a start, it (at least used to) keep costs down and gives you some enthusiast cred.  The design of the iM is pretty solid, but its engine output is not even remotely competitive. I envision more of a 4-door Civic Si Competitor. Why not turbo the 1.8?   For a good “weird car” The Toyota Pixis Space (below) or Hummer-like Mega would be awesome. how about a wago-van like the Toyota Noah?

Toyota Pixis Space

My point is, the Japanese market has a ton of interesting and original models that, like the original xB would immediately give Scion that funky-weird cool that they so desperately want to regain.  A re-branded Mazda2 is neither of those things.  Oh and I know, enthusiast cars don’t sell all that well, so the “turbo’s for all!” policy may not bear fruit.  Regardless, the current lineup needs help, it feels disjointed and nowhere near “cool”.  Scion is sort of like Mitsubishi, I want them to succeed, and there is still potential (well, at least in Scion) but as I said above, it may make more sense to cut off the failing appendage and just focus on making Toyota home to interesting, quick, small cars again.

Oh, and where’s my Supra?