Scion brand not completely dead as Scion models live on

2016 Scion iA

The 2016 Scion iA becomes the 2017 Toyota iA.

We’re not going to cite the Mark Twain quote about “rumors of death” and “greatly exaggerated, but essentially that was the message from Toyota’s chief of American operations Bob Carter, who invited CarBuzzard to participate in a conference call with select publications regarding the “death of Scion.” CarBuzzard had broken the story in a news article posted by Buzardette BJ Killeen, and after the story had gone viral, Toyota announced the changes earlier than originally planned.

What Carter said is that Scion is, but isn’t, dead. Scion models will be “transitioned” into Toyota, and the brand that emerged from Toyota in 2003 will be reabsorbed into its parent, to use a somewhat grotesque sci-fi metaphor.

Here’s what’s going to happen. The 2016 model year will be the last for Scion. All the models that are now being made will continue through August, Toyota’s normal model year changeover. Scion models that were planned to continue for the 2017 will do so, but as Toyotas rather than branded as Scions.

For 2017, the models that will be affected by the transition are:

  • Scion iA, introduced as a 2016 model, will become the 2017 Toyota iA.
  • Scion iM, introduced as a 2016 model, will become the 2017 Toyota iM.
  • Scion FR-S will become the 2017 Toyota FR-S (And not as the Toyota GT86, as the sports coupe is known in outside of North America. The “FR-S” model name has more “awareness” here, so there is no plan to change, at least at this time).
  • Scion tC will be discontinued at the end of the 2016 model year, as had already been planned.
  • Scion xB had already been discontinued at the end of the 2015 model year.
  • Scion C-HR concept, which debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show, “if it actually makes production,” hasn’t yet been named. (Additional future models, which weren’t discussed, in a “robust” future model lineup, haven’t been named yet).

The blame, or perhaps credit, for the name change goes to Millennials, according to Carter. The Scion brand was created “as an experiment” in marketing to Gen X. Monitoring the youth—under 35—market, Toyota discovered that the Gen Xers had attitudes that were widely divergent from their parents, and part of that was a rejection of mainstream brands. So Toyota created Scion.

However, Gen Xers are now in their 40s. As Carter noted, you have to grow up sometimes, and many Gen Xers have been “one and done” with unique brands and are going back to the mainstream nameplates. Instead of xBs and xDs, the Gen Xers, married with children, are buying Camrys and Siennas.

Millennials, however, largely came of age during the Great Recession and are—not Carter’s words—more sticks in the mud. They have a different attitude towards brands than their predecessors. Quality and durability are more primary to their decision making, and Toyota/Scion market research showed that as a brand, Toyota is more aspirational than Scion. Adding Scion simply muddles the market by adding another brand.

Concern about Millennials not being interested in cars, Carter said that 20 percent of the recent growth in sales can be attributed to them. Millennials, by the way, are attracted to small SUVs and can be credited with part of the sales surge in that market.

We asked whether, if Toyota was more aspirational, and Scion therefore less aspirational, was Scion regarded as a poor man’s brand, like Plymouth or LaSalle, and therefore undesirable. Carter said it was more a matter of awareness of the brand, not that they were disinterested but rather uninterested.

Carter said that the discussion over Scion’s fate has been going on internally for about the past 18 months, and that “eliminating a brand is something not taken lightly.” The impact will be less than, as one journalist asked, when Ford eliminated Mercury. Carter said that Scion had always acted as a “shop-in-shop,” within a Toyota dealership. Changing from Scion to Toyota would primarily be changing the logos on the cars which would still be sold by the same dealerships.

For Toyota it means marketing one brand awareness rather than two…although there is no push to consolidate Lexus, which as a brand is more successful than Scion has been. During the year, Scion will become known in Toyota marketing as “Scion by Toyota.”

Carter summed up his presentation by stating that market research had led Toyota to the decision to eliminate the Scion brand, and that this is “absolutely” the right time to make the decision.

To put it in political terms, Scion lost its constituency. It’s not that Scion did anything wrong, but rather that the experiment had run its course. Perhaps, but if Scion isn’t “dead,” at least not yet, it’s certainly not long for this world, no matter what it is.