Might Scion have to go mainstream? Toyota executives think not. They say Toyota's brand is strong enough that mainstream Gen Y consumers will discover it anyway.
That could be seen as hubris, akin to the arrogance that knocked the Detroit 3 from the lofty position they held three decades ago. But the folks at Toyota think they have it figured out.
Jim Lentz, 52, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., doesn't want Scion to grow beyond its current self-imposed limitations.
"Scion could be mass-market, but I hope not," Lentz says. "If Scion starts selling between 500,000 and 700,000 units, it probably means that Toyota as a brand was not able to evolve and chase a new market. If Scion becomes that successful, it will be at the expense of the Toyota brand."
Lentz is comforted by market research that shows the Toyota brand tops nearly all competitors in every age category. Because Toyota is the No. 1 intended brand for consumers under age 25, that eases fears that Toyota could become the next Buick. Thank Scion for that.
When young trendsetters spread the Scion gospel and made the connection that Scions were made by Toyota, the mainstream buyer gave Toyota another look.
Young mainstream buyers wouldn't necessarily buy a boxy Scion xB. But, the thinking went, they might buy a Toyota Matrix or Tacoma pickup instead, because it was made by the same company that made Scion.
Meanwhile, Scion buyers have shown a strong loyalty to the Toyota family, migrating to the FJ Cruiser SUV, Lexus IS sedans and even to the Camry as their interests move from rock 'n' rollers to baby strollers.
"The Toyota brand has become much more relevant to young people today, and it won't have to rely on Scion to do the heavy lifting," Lentz says.
Yoshimi Inaba, 61, the retired former CEO of Toyota Motor Sales, says Scion conceivably could grow into its own franchise, although there are no plans now.
"The initial idea is that as their life stage changes, they migrate over to Toyota," Inaba says. "If it's happening in a meaningful volume or ratio, then the initial objective is achieved.
"If not, then the question arises, what do we do next? On the horizon, there may be an idea of separating the Scion brand as a separate franchise to grow those customers into a separate brand."