Scion Aims to Keep Fun, and Gen Y, in the Picture

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Scion as a brand is going back to the future. Back, that is, to the time when there was no Scion brand — back to more conventional vehicles and marketing than the iconoclastic touch that led to the origination of Toyota’s “youth” brand in 2004.

When Toyota announced Scion brand sales for April, executives hoped to continue a trend begun in the first quarter, when Scion sales were up by 19 percent over a year earlier. After four bad years, Scion sales actually ticked up by 8 percent last year over 2010.

In fact, according to Toyota’s April U.S. sales press release, Scion posted April sales of 5,503 units, up 8.4 percent versus April 2011. The tC sports coupe led the way with sales of 2,008 units, and the xB urban utility vehicle recorded April sales of 1,617 units. The all-new iQ premium micro-subcompact — the world’s smallest four-seater — posted monthly sales of 962 units, followed by the xD five-door urban subcompact with 916 units.

Ironically, the reason Scion is on the cusp of a brand resurgence is that Toyota has scrapped the original reason for the brand.[more]

Instead of appealing to twenty-somethings with edgy vehicle designs and marketing, Scion is on the recovery road with U.S. buyers because the brand has turned to more conventional vehicles and positioning. And while it is still hoping to attract more buyers in the Millennial generation, the truth is that Scion’s average buyer was 43 years old last year. But that doesn’t mean they’re happy with that.

Scion executives now are talking about replacing their iconic xB, a little car that is ice-cube-shaped, with something entirely different. “We may not replace the xB by name, one-for-one,” Scion VP Jack Hollis told Automotive News.

The original buyer demographic of first-time owners has been aging, yet many of them continue to like the brand and its products. And Toyota hasn’t been able to count on strong demand from today’s Generation Y because they have been hit so hard by the recession and unemployment.

Moreover, the twenty-somethings who are in the market today display more of a bent toward practical traits such as fuel economy and precise handling than toward the design quirkiness that put Scion on the map. So Scion’s new FR-S, just hitting showrooms, emphasizes performance. And the iQ that went on sale in December is a traditional, low-priced small car.

Still, as Hollis commented to USA Today, internal research shows that “millennials, in fact, crave niche brands. They don’t want to necessarily drive the same car brand or model as their friends. They still want what Scion is built around delivering: individuality and personalization.”

So while the brand will still be wooing first-time car buyers, “it is now introducing models that are likely to create second-time Scion buyers — instead of leading them directly into the Toyota brand. Owners of the sporty, cheap tC may trade in for the more expensive and powerful FR-S,”as USA Today notes.

As for the social-media marketing campaign Scion launched last year starring “Zeus” in a lame comedic role? The king of the gods has done a vanishing act. Instead, Scion brand strategists are trying a games-based promotional gambit to still get Millennials to their dealers’ lots.

From May 1 through July 31, buyers of a new 2012 Scion iQ will receive a PlayStation Vita portable entertainment system, including a free downoad of the MotorStorm RC game — while supplies last, of course. The PS Vita promotion coincides with the nationwide release of the iQ, Scion’s fourth vehicle and the world’s smallest four-seater.

“Scion is very proud of the iQ’s intelligent and functional design,” stated Hollis in the release. “Similar to the PS Vita, the Scion iQ comes loaded with premium technological features, has a focus on functionality, is concentrated into a suitably small package and most importantly is tons of fun.”

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