Toyota Pulls The Plug On Scion, But Why?

February 3, 2016

Today, Toyota announced plans to shutter its youth-oriented Scion brand. But why?

That depends on whom you ask.

TOYOTA'S VERSION

In the video above, Toyota Motor North America's CEO Jim Lentz explains that Scion isn't really going away. Beginning in the 2017 model year, most remaining Scion models will be rebadged and sold as Toyotas.

The rationale? Scion debuted in 2003 as a brand exclusively focused on younger car buyers. It offered small, quirky, inexpensive, customizable rides like the tC coupe and the boxy xB, hoping to attract the Millennials who were just then beginning to reach driving age.

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But 13 years later, the world is a different place. According to Toyota, the decision to pull the plug on Scion "was made in response to customers’ needs":

"Today’s younger buyers still want fun-to-drive vehicles that look good, but they are also more practical. They, like their parents, have come to appreciate the Toyota brand and its traditional attributes of quality, dependability and reliability. At the same time, new Toyota vehicles have evolved to feature the dynamic styling and handling young people desire."

In other words, the change isn't due to lackluster Scion sales, but because consumers have shifted away from flashy, unusual cars. At the same time, Toyotas have become more interesting and youthful. The gap that initially divided the two brands has narrowed, so now, they're merging under the better-known Toyota mantle.

And that's one way of looking at it.

ANOTHER VERSION

A peek at Scion's annual sales stats, however, suggests a slightly different story: 

2003 – Sales: 10,898

2004 – Sales: 99,259

2005 – Sales: 156,485

2006 – Sales: 173,034

2007 – Sales: 130,181

2008 – Sales: 113,904

2009 – Sales: 57,961

2010 – Sales: 45,678

2011 – Sales: 49,271

2012 – Sales: 73,507

2013 – Sales: 68,321

2014 – Sales: 58,009

2015 – Sales: 56,167

It's telling that Scion sales peaked way back in 2006, before the Great Recession. That year, Scion offered just three models: the tC coupe, the boxy xB, and the xA hatchback. By comparison, in 2015 Scion offered a full seven models, and yet sales were just 32 percent of what they'd been nine years earlier.

The question is: did consumers' interest in Scion begin to wane because its cars were too trendy, too gimmicky? Were they a flash in the pan, like jeggings or bell-bottoms or bolo ties?

Or is Scion's failure simply a result of poor timing? Is there a place for curious, vaguely decadent vehicles like those in the Scion lineup in the painfully practical world of post-Recession America -- a world in which young people aren't buying many cars at all? And if there is, why hasn't the brand moved more than 75,000 units per year since 2008?

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Or is it possible that Scion's death has been planned for years? If so, it would seem weird for the brand to devote so much energy on cranking out new concepts and production models. Then again, with a team of just 22 to handle marketing, distribution, and strategy, it seems as if Toyota's support for Scion wasn't as strong as it should've been to ensure success.

Scion's death is probably attributable to all those factors -- and likely a few dozen more. We'll let historians hash out the details.

In the meantime, Toyota says that the 2017 FR-S, iA, and iM will transition to the Toyota lineup as of August 2016. The C-HR crossover will join them at some point in the future. The only other remaining model, the tC coupe, will wrap production this August with a final release series. Scion employees will migrate to Toyota, too.

If you happen to own a Scion, Toyota says not to worry. You'll still have access to service and repairs via Toyota dealerships.

Will you miss Scion, or do you wish it good riddance? Did it leave us too soon or did it linger too long? Sound off in the comments below.

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