Scion Gets Normal
Toyota's quirky youth brand moves to regular cars, regular ads. By Mark Rechtin, Automotive News
Nearly a decade after Toyota launched Scion with quirky cars and edgy music, the subbrand's sales have dropped far below their modest peak. And the so-called youth brand's customers are getting older.
Now Toyota execs, after a nine-month brand review, are aiming new vehicles at buyers who are more conventional than the spiky-haired youths it chased at launch in 2003.
A new sporty coupe that hits showrooms in May, the Scion FR-S, is about performance, not quirkiness. The iQ, which went on sale in December, is a traditional low-priced econobox.
Even the ads are different. The edgy animation is gone. Instead, the new 200-hp rear-drive FR-S is shown in a commercial driving on scenic mountain roads -- albeit while drifting wildly through corners -- but the final destination is not a cool club with thumping music.
Advertising for the iQ subcompact plays up features and benefits, not the supposed cool factor.
Meanwhile, the quintessential Scion model -- the boxy xB compact, which has been Scion's best-seller for three of the last four years -- is on the bubble and may not be redesigned.
"We may not replace the xB by name, one-for-one," says Scion Vice President Jack Hollis. "The first generation, we needed the box. The second generation, we still liked the box, but we started looking for things that would stand out like the box. No one is saying [the next one] has to be a box."
So has Scion re-evaluated and changed the brand's original mission of feeding young customers to Toyota? Executives say no.
"I'm not a 're-anything' type of guy because a relaunch means starting over," says Hollis. "Instead, we take what we learn and move forward."
The nine-month internal brand study was prompted by the changing nature of the 70 million young people in Generation Y, born between 1980 and 1999.
These young adults, many of them entering prime new-car purchasing years, are adopting new automotive tastes, Scion executives argue. Not only do the people who were 22 years old in 2004 have different social mores eight years later, but today's 22-year-olds also are very different from yesteryear's 22-year-olds.
The new buyers still like Scion's fixed pricing policy. But wacky exterior designs have taken a back seat to more traditional traits such as fuel economy and precise handling. And while the pitch has been to youth, the reality is that the average Scion buyer is well older than the oldest member of Gen Y.
The brand still tries for some marketing edginess -- Scion now sponsors death metal music festivals favored by angst-stricken teens. But Scion now is trying to meet the needs of two groups: the aging original customers who still may think edgy is cool and younger customers who have more conventional tastes in vehicle features.
Today's Scion buyers are older than they were when the youth brand was young.
According to R.L. Polk data, the average tC coupe buyer in 2007 was 43.5 years old. Last year the average tC buyer was 47. Similar aging patterns followed the xB and xD hatchbacks as well. Still, those buyers are spring chickens compared with the average Toyota Camry buyer, who was 60 in 2011.
Still, Scion is a relatively youthful brand. In 2011, the average age of Scion buyers was 43 compared to an industry average of 51, according to TrueCar.
When Scion launched nationally in 2004, its average buyer was just 35.
Scion's Hollis says the iQ, the FR-S and other future cars will drive down the average age of buyers. The average age of customers who placed advance orders for the FR-S was 34.
Scion was created to sell niche cars that would never have worn a Toyota badge in this country. But today it is quite easy to envision a Toyota badge on the iQ or FR-S -- after all, they are sold as Toyotas in every other global market. That's in contrast to the original tC coupe, which was created just for the U.S. market.
Sales on the mend
When the recession struck in 2008, Scion volumes plummeted more than nearly all other brands. U.S. sales in 2011 were barely a quarter of their 2006 peak of 173,034 units. Executives say that with lousy employment prospects, Scion's key demographic of recent college grads found good credit hard to get.
"The recession changed so much," said Owen Peacock, Scion national manager of marketing and communications. "The tC costs just $16,500, yet people weren't qualifying for financing."
Because all Scions are imported from Japan, the brand also faced the double whammy of the strong yen and supply shortages caused by the March 2011 earthquake.
After four years of sharp drops in volume, Scion sales grew 8 percent in 2011 and are up 19 percent this year through March, to 15,171. That's still just a fraction of the 36,356 sold in the first quarter of 2006.
"One quarter doesn't make an economic recovery, but it's good to see things coming back," says Hollis, a former minor-league baseball player who took over Scion in 2007, just before the market crashed. "It's still early, but we are seeing an increase in first-time new-car buyers who seem to have decent credit."
Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., who was the first executive to run Scion operations, would like to see the brand sell better but says, "That's not its sole purpose." More important, he says, is that Scion attract people who have never bought a Toyota before.
In that aspect, it has had some success: Seventy percent of Scion buyers are new to Toyota.
But Scion has been modestly successful in its mission to be a feeder brand for Toyota and Lexus. About half of Scion owners stay within the Toyota family when they buy their next car, below Toyota Division's typical loyalty rate of 58 percent.
The nine-month brand review addressed those issues, Hollis says. It also involved a redesign of the Scion Web site to make it faster and work better on iPads.
Launching the FR-S
Scion is taking a mainstream approach to launching the FR-S.
It will buy commercial time for the FR-S beginning June 4, with heavy play on ESPN and Fox's coverage of professional soccer. Syndicated summer shows on Fox, CBS and NBC will get media buys as well, Peacock said.
The commercials deviate sharply from former Scion commercials that had thumping-bass and animated urban motifs. The new spots show almost stereotypical footage of the FR-S driving on Mount Tamalpais near San Francisco -- but with a twist.
Scion factory racer Ken Gushi drives the car at high speed, drifting around wet hairpin corners almost sideways. Outtake footage of a deer dashing in front of Gushi's car -- just missing the right front fender -- has gone viral. See autonews.com/deer.
Scion also will become more active with the Sports Car Club of America, providing contingency prizes for FR-S racers who place well.
"We're still the youngest brand in industry," Lentz says. "Our consumer was hit hardest by the economic crunch. We still want the right quality buyer."
Content provided by Autoweek.
SEVEN VIBRATING DOLDOES IS A MEME
It's always like that, with the higher than expected avg buyer age. Same thing with the Honda Element - they advertised it to extreme sports playing Gen X'ers, and it was (appartently, from what I've seen) mostly purchased by single women over 45 years old.
The younger demographic they try to go after doesn't like to be pandered too, and alot of times no matter how they feel about the vehicle, they simply just cannot afford to purchase a new vehicle.
The might want to look at the demographis of buyers who purchase them USED, they might find a younger average age there.
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