Aaron Robinson: It’s Time For Toyota To Kill Scion
Jack Hollis played baseball for Stanford and was an outfielder in the minors, so you’d think the current head of Toyota’s Scion division would be able to recognize a bum pitch when he sees one. Yet Hollis finds himself having to swing for the fences off the knuckle-ball decision to sell the Toyota FT-86/Subaru BRZ in the United States as a Scion. This Scion, the FR-S, will be a new “halo car” for Toyota’s hipster brand, Hollis tells us. Well, thank mercy for miracles because that’s just what we’ve been pining for—a halo car for Scion.
Scion is a brand conceived in a focus group, born in a fluorescent-lit marketing department, and wet-nursed by copious spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. It can claim no pedigree, no history. No Mr. Scion ever lived to turn his personal ambition into automobiles. When you buy a Scion, you buy into something akin to a second-year MBA’s class project on ways to penetrate the youth market by a car company that pins its fortunes almost entirely on aging baby boomers.
Scion’s 2003 launch was propelled to unexpected (even within Toyota) heights by the original xB, the car that made cubes cool. The little xB was a fantastic value and far outsold its initial estimates. But since the xB’s bloat into a small minivan and a “redesign” of the tC coupe that barely distinguishes it from the original, Scion’s numbers have deflated.
In the first quarter of 2012, the four available Scion models (iQ, tC, xB, xD) scored just 15,171 sales, only a bit more than what the Honda Fit alone tallied (12,625). No doubt, Scion’s lineup has weakened. Hollis says the vaunted xB—basically Scion incarnate—may not even be replaced when the current one rolls out to pasture.
Mercedes-Benz and BMW have also turned out their share of clinkers. The difference with Scion is that—as with Plymouth, Mercury, and, in its later years, Saturn—the brand can’t be defined as anything but a thinly varnished play for incremental volume. Nothing roots it to the market beyond the immediacy of this week’s deal. Without a continuous supply of fresh, flashy product and advertising, its resiliency is that of butter in sunlight. And now, to initiate the rescue of its foundering experiment, Toyota awards Scion the most important new sports car in a generation.
We are in agreement on that last part, right? It’s been 23 years since the first Mazda Miata, and even greater gulfs of time separate us from the Datsun 240Z and the Mazda RX-7. We’ve wandered a desert or two while waiting for the global industry to quit making excuses and build us another light, inexpensive, rear-drive sports car. And now it has. While the Subaru BRZ is welcome, the Scion FR-S is puzzling.