Scion charts new lineup for U.S.

'We may mix things up a bit,' chief says

The Scion FR-S is introduced during the New York auto show in March 2013. Scion, struggling to boost sales with aged products, plans to replace three of its five U.S. nameplates over a two-year period starting in 2015. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

NEW YORK -- Toyota Motor Corp.’s Scion, struggling to boost sales with aged products, plans to replace three of its five U.S. nameplates over a two-year period starting in 2015.

The first of the three will be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, Scion Vice President Doug Murtha said in an interview today.

Murtha declined to describe the category or segment of the vehicles, but hinted at a possible direction: “From a segment context, Scion has always been about entry compact and subcompact, and that will remain our center of gravity,” he said.

“Would we be interested in other body styles? The answer is always yes. We may mix things up a bit as we find a new direction for the brand.”

Both the xB and xD hatchbacks are seven years into their current product cycle, in contrast to the 10-year-old brand’s initial promise of quick-change products that wouldn’t go stale.

'Tradeoffs' made

“Some events of last decade forced Toyota to make tradeoffs, and Scion’s cadence was affected by that,” Murtha said at the New York auto show.

At this time last year, Toyota executives said they were studying a possible move further upscale for the brand. But it appears that attracting first-time buyers remains the key quest.

Toyota sources said that they are looking into importing the Auris hatchback from Europe as a next-generation product. And Toyota executives are intrigued by the subcompact crossover segment, occupied by the Nissan Juke and Honda’s upcoming Fit.

“Our lineup went from three vehicles to five, our sales went way up, the sky was the limit, and people were wondering if we were going to add to the flock,” Murtha said. “Our intention is to keep the lineup where it is. It could drop to four, it could increase to six. But we will replace three of the vehicles, and not necessarily like for like.”

In addition to the xB and xD, Scion sells the tC coupe, the iQ minicar and the sporty, rear-wheel-drive FR-S coupe.

1 million sold

Scion has sold nearly 1 million vehicles since its California launch in 2003. The recession took a huge bite of out of sales, which fell from a peak of 173,034 in 2006 to 45,678 in 2010 as young consumers struggled to find steady jobs and good credit.

Scion sold 68,321 units last year, off 7 percent. This year’s demand has dropped 12 percent through March. Toyota has touted Scion as its laboratory for new ideas and has called sales volume a secondary concern.

“The brand has never been about year-over-year increases,” Murtha said. “But to effectively experiment, we need a reasonable level of throughput. I would hope a refresh of three of our five products should translate into volume, but it’s not necessarily the end-all be-all for us.”

In the interim, Scion will continue to produce “Release Series” special editions of existing products that feature special interior lighting and rear-deck badges that project the Scion logo onto the street.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com -- Follow Mark on Twitter: @markrechtin

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