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Scion aims to ditch the kids and mature along with its customer base

Scion aiming to ditch the kids and mature along with its consumer base

They grow up so fast, don’t they? It’s hard to believe it’s been ten whole years since Toyota unveiled its youth-oriented Scion brand. The Japanese automaker was in it to win it, so to speak, with a concentrated push towards capturing the youth market with its off-shoot brand. But that was then and this is now. The once wide-eyed youth Toyota was chasing are now older and Scion may need to grow up along with them to keep pace.

Having just concluded a nine-month review of its Scion brand, the Japanese manufacturer now looks poised to change things up considerably, reports Automotive News. Instead of eccentric ad campaigns and boxy car models, Scion will now focus its efforts on garnering more mainstream appeal. And part of that process has already begun.

Take for example the sporty FR-S: the two door, rear-wheel drive coupe is nothing like any of the cars Scion offered prior to its introduction. Instead of trying to operate outside the mainstream, the new 200 horsepower FR-S is a performance car, plain and simple. Of course, looking at a car like the Scion iQ, it’s hard to see it as anything but quirky. Not so, according to Scion. In the past, the spotlight may have shone on some of the more eccentric traits surrounding the diminutive city car, especially its unique design, but not anymore. Now, Scion has placed a greater emphasis on more mainstream appeal such as fuel economy, handling, and overall vehicle functionality.

With new models like the iQ and sporty FR-S look to carry the brand’s banner into the future, the fate of the nameplates best-selling models, like the boxy xB, is looking rather bleak. While speaking with Automotive News, Scion vice president Jack Hollis hinted that the company may not replace the model with a “one for one” as buyers today are less interested quirky exterior designs.

2012 Scion iQ

So what exactly incited this shift in focus for Toyota and its Scion brand? The answer is twofold, really. First, many of the young adults initially attracted to the Scion brand (members of Generation Y born between 1980 and 1999) are entering a different stage in their lives, and with that comes new  tastes. According to Scion execs, members of this demographic have different needs now that they are no longer 22 years old. They argue that today’s 22-year-olds are very different from those in the past. While these new buyers still appreciate Scion’s fixed-pricing policy, the vast majority are no longer interested in letting their automobile define their character. Things like zany exterior designs and club-thumping ads are no longer relevant to these consumers.

Second, sales, or lack thereof, for the brand have continued to dwindle, demanding a shift in strategy. When the recession hit in 2008, Scion volumes took a bigger dive than almost all other brands. Sales figures for the U.S. in 2011 were barely a quarter of their 2006 peak of 173,034 units. According to Scion, poor employment prospects for recent college graduates (a key demographic for Scion) and an inability to finance cars such as the $16,500 tC meant purchasing a Scion made matters more than difficult for potential buyers.

With sales having suffered in recent years,  we can’t help but wonder if the Japanese automaker might find itself in a precarious situation, left with a youth brand that no longer wants to cater to the youth. So far though, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Even though sales have yet to climb to former figures, Scion sales grew 8 percent in 2011 and are up 19 percent in the first three months of this year. But according to Toyota, sales aren’t the sole focus of the brand. Instead, according to Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., more important is that Scion attracts new customers that have never bought a Toyota before, which seems to be working — figures show 70 percent of Scion buyers are new to Toyota (a trend Scion intends to continue with its primetime push of the FR-S beginning in June). In that sense, Scion has served its purpose as an effective feeder brand into the Toyota family. Whether it continues to do so remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: while Scion may be young, it’s at least showing some signs of maturity.