Nearly a decade after Toyota launched Scion with quirky cars and edgy music, the subbrand's sales have dropped far below their modest peak. And the so-called youth brand's customers are getting older.
Now Toyota execs, after a nine-month brand review, are aiming new vehicles at buyers who are more conventional than the spiky-haired youths it chased at launch in 2003.
A new sporty coupe that hits showrooms in May, the FR-S, is about performance, not quirkiness. The iQ, which went on sale in December, is a traditional low-priced econobox.
Even the ads are different. The edgy animation is gone. Instead, the new 200-hp rear-drive FR-S is shown in a commercial driving on scenic mountain roads -- albeit while drifting wildly through corners -- but the final destination is not a cool club with thumping music.
Advertising for the iQ subcompact plays up features and benefits, not the supposed cool factor.
Meanwhile, the quintessential Scion model -- the boxy xB compact, which has been Scion's best-seller for three of the last four years -- is on the bubble and may not be redesigned.
"We may not replace the xB by name, one-for-one," says Scion Vice President Jack Hollis. "The first generation, we needed the box. The second generation, we still liked the box, but we started looking for things that would stand out like the box. No one is saying [the next one] has to be a box."
So has Scion re-evaluated and changed the brand's original mission of feeding young customers to Toyota? Executives say no.
"I'm not a 're-anything' type of guy because a relaunch means starting over," says Hollis. "Instead, we take what we learn and move forward."
The nine-month internal brand study was prompted by the changing nature of the 70 million young people in Generation Y, born between 1980 and 1999.
These young adults, many of them entering prime new-car purchasing years, are adopting new automotive tastes, Scion executives argue. Not only do the people who were 22 years old in 2004 have different social mores eight years later, but today's 22-year-olds also are very different from yesteryear's 22-year-olds.
The new buyers still like Scion's fixed pricing policy. But wacky exterior designs have taken a back seat to more traditional traits such as fuel economy and precise handling. And while the pitch has been to youth, the reality is that the average Scion buyer is well older than the oldest member of Gen Y.