Youth-Oriented Scion Cars Keeping Aftermarket Approach To Infotainment

April 10, 2015

Get into any models from the current 2015 Scion lineup—or the upcoming 2016 Scion iM, as was recently shown at the New York Auto Show—and you’ll find a very different audio and infotainment system than what you’d get in mainstream Toyota models like the Yaris, Corolla, or RAV4.

That’s because Toyota’s youth-focused small-car brand has always ‘gone it alone’ with respect to what’s in the dash—bypassing Toyota’s own systems in favor of what are essentially aftermarket systems from Pioneer.

Looking back five or ten years ago, it was a great thing for Scion, as they were able to offer things like full iPod control, wide-ranging USB compatibility, Bluetooth audio streaming, and HD Radio long before these were common in small cars.

Yet increasingly Millennials are looking inside—not outside—for ways to customize their cars. And they’re looking for an interface that isn’t just better-integrated with the vehicle, but better more cohesive visually logically. Steering-wheel toggles, voice controls, and multi-information screens as a control point for the main infotainment screens—all with fonts and colors that match, and a tactile experience that goes with what you’d find elsewhere in the car—are all things that have rapidly become part of the small-car experience, too.

Aftermarket approach has its pros and cons

And that’s where the aftermarket approach starts to fall apart. In today’s Scion models, that cohesive interior experience is mostly missing.

2016 Scion iM

2016 Scion iM

It’s a shortcoming that Scion VP Doug Murtha admitted, as part of an interview at the New York Auto Show last week. “We have a different head-unit development strategy, where on the Toyota side, unfortunately, our lead time is not all that different than our vehicle lead time,” he explained. “So we opted out of that cycle, and are taking more of an aftermarket method that not only lets us cascade a single new technology through the lineup within a few months but also come to market much more quickly with some things.”

At the same time, Scion has seen purchase priorities make an about-face, as the brand’s target under-35 buyers have cycled out of Gen X and over to Millennials. And generally speaking, Millennials are far more interested in upgrading their cabin look or functionality than they are in turning heads with dubs and lime-green paint.

Millennials more interested in customizing inside than outside

“What we find is that they still want something that allows them to not be like everyone else,” said Murtha. “But they’re more interested in doing things to their interior environment than they are in making some kind of exterior expression—and we’ve had to adjust.”

One of those ways is by bringing a rapidly evolving, easily customizable audio platform—Aha—into Scion products, instead of a slower-evolving app ecosystem on the Toyota side.

Is that a hint of what’s to come? Murtha admits that while much of the functionality is there, the brand hasn’t yet taken advantage of ways to customize the look and feel of the interface. “I think we need to work with Pioneer and see what they can push to us on our scale, in short order,” he said. “But I acknowledge it’s clearly an opportunity for us and everybody else out there, an opportunity for customization.”

The bottom-line sticker price may be a roadblock for Scion really stepping its infotainment hardware up to the levels of MyFord Touch or Mini Connected. The brand tends to build ‘monospec’ vehicles with everything standard, and according to Murtha the brand isn’t seeing convincing data yet that its customers would be willing to pay a significant amount more for an advanced infotainment system.

“That would be nice, but it’s not a ‘closer,’” in the dealership-sale sense, he said. “That’s the conundrum.”

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