The Scion niche small-car brand has long operated as a sort of laboratory for Toyota. And now it’s serving as a testbed for how the role of Toyota dealerships could change in the future—to be, perhaps, a little more like the controversial sales methods used by Tesla Motors.
But prior to that, Scion this year will be broadening and fine-tuning a new sales process that it’s been testing since last summer in only about 50 dealerships around the country.
The new ‘pilot program,’ called Pure Process Plus, allows buyers to go to the Scion website, build a vehicle, find one in inventory, and complete the entire credit-application process. From there, they can even find a participating dealer and secure a price, all before even setting foot in the store.
Scion VP Doug Murtha explained to us this past week, in an interview at the New York Auto Show, that it’s a natural extension from the brand’s Pure Price premise that it’s offered since the brand’s formation a decade ago.
“What it enables the customer to do is essentially bring the majority of the transaction process into the living room,” said Murtha, who added that it’s a logical extension of the brand’s original sales-and-pricing strategy. “I think we found that struck a chord with the buyer we were targeting at the time, who was very turned off by the whole negotiation process—and that was big news in 2003.”
Taking the process away from the sales floor and into the living room
But in the era of Amazon and Apple, Murtha said, pretty much everything outside the auto industry has become much more process-minded. And Scion hopes to bring that change in focus to the auto sector.
2016 Scion iM - live photos, 2015 NY Auto Show
Scion plans to roll Pure Process Plus out to more dealerships right after the launch of the new iM and iA models this fall.
And with the wider rollout, Scion hopes to tweak the process based on dealer input, and aims to make it even shorter for time-crunched Millennials. Murtha says that the average transaction time for a completely dealership-based purchase is currently about four hours. Pure Process Plus brings it down to about two hours, but the target is an house—including giving the customer a full orientation on the vehicle.
Scion is offered at just over 1,000 of roughly 1,200 U.S. Toyota dealerships, and while the new process could soon become widely available for the Scion brand, it may be some time before the sales process becomes the norm on the Toyota side.
A testbed for dealerships as a 'delivery outlet'
“We think that’s a big step for us, and we think we can learn some valuable lessons on the Scion side that can eventually translate over to the Toyota side, and I think dealerships are more willing to experiment with their xB business than their Camry business at this point,” explained Murtha. “And that’s what we’re here to do.”
But Murtha cautioned against any ideas that Toyota is considering a plan that doesn’t include dealerships.
“To be clear, we’re not in any way taking the dealer out of the process, and we think they still have a role to play—there’s also some creativity in getting some consumers financed, to be honest,” said Murtha. “But we see them as more of a delivery outlet than a place where shopping starts.”