SAN FRANCISCO -- Henry Ford would have liked Scion's approach to selling cars: Buyers can have any feature they want as long as it's standard.
Scion has always offered its cars in a variety of colors (Sizzling Crimson Mica, anyone?) and a choice of manual or automatic transmission. But the factory-installed options on every Scion end there. And the brand is sticking with that single-trim strategy as it prepares to add two critical new products to its thin lineup next month.
Plenty of automakers limit the number of a la carte options or even packages as a way to reduce manufacturing complexity and time. For Scion, the rationale is different. After all, several of its models are built for other markets where they are sold with options.
For one thing, the single-trim approach helps the brand maintain its value-oriented image, said Doug Murtha, Scion's group vice president, during a media event here.
Scion's cars appeal mostly to consumers seeking to get into a new car for about $20,000, with little extra budget for options. "To be honest, folks are reaching to get into a lot of these cars to begin with," Murtha told Automotive News.
Though a few customers may be willing to spend another $1,000 for leather seats or a moonroof, Murtha said, "are they necessarily our target customer, and is it worth the trade-off? We've said no from an inventory standpoint."
Simpler inventory management is another key benefit for Scion dealers, most of whom also carry the Toyota brand, with its far richer assortment of vehicles. "You don't have to stock hundreds of models of a car to satisfy one customer," said Ray Reilly, a senior vice president at Larry H. Miller Dealerships.
At the same time, a robust catalog of dealer-installed accessories allows customization when a dealer or buyer wants it.
Because Scion targets a higher percentage of first-time new-car buyers than most brands, a straightforward pricing setup is important, Murtha said.
Scion has stuck with the single-trim system since it started selling cars in 2003. Its latest models, the long-awaited iA compact sedan and iM five-door hatchback, will follow the same practice when they go on sale in September.
Scion hopes the new products will help it end a 26-month streak of year-on-year sales declines. This year's U.S. sales through July were down 20 percent from a year earlier.
The iA will start at $16,495 and the iM will start at $19,255, including shipping.
The one-size-fits-all approach could deter some customers looking for a specific feature that isn't included on the cars. It also forces Scion to carefully calibrate its offerings to ensure that young consumers aren't turned off by a lack of choice.
"The risk is going to be matching that vehicle with as high a percentage of buyers as possible," said Mike Wall, auto analyst at IHS. "If you don't thread that needle just right, you could lose some sales."
Still, for a brand aimed at young and first-time buyers, streamlining the choices is a smart move, he said.
Wall added: "Remember that the younger buyer could have just come from the Apple store and picked up a phone where there are very few configuration choices."