EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 15, 2012

Scion sells good sense across the ages

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — I’m getting ready to buy a new car. But before I go shopping, I’m compiling a list of models to price and compare. That short list contains two cars from the same brand, the Scion iQ and the Scion xD.

Both models mesh neatly with my wants and needs, for all sorts of reasons.

This will be a second family vehicle, used mostly for local run-arounds. Scion cars are well priced and economical to own, with high fuel-economy ratings. Those are all appealing attributes, because my wife and I don’t want to strain the household budget for an occasional-use car.

But we also don’t want a flimsy tin box that might stutter if it sits in the driveway for a week between starts. Scion sells smaller-sized vehicles, but they have a robust constitution and a dense, solid quality that rings with competence. What’s more, Scions are made by Toyota, which has one of the best reputations in the world for making long-lasting, sturdy and reliable vehicles.

The Scion iQ and xD also are both very practical, although in different ways. The iQ, at $16,140, is very small, but the scamp still seats four people thanks to a unique, innovative arrangement of offset seats. And its stubby, bantam size repays any inconvenience with fabulous fuel economy. The iQ is rated at 36 miles per gallon city, 37 mpg highway.

At a step or two larger than the iQ, the xD is a little bulldog with a very big stomach. The model gives you a high-volume interior relative to the xD’s snubbed, compact body size. Yet while the car offers a lot of hauling utility, and it still manages an impressive fuel-use rating of 27 mpg city, 33 mpg highway. The xD lists at $16,500 for a model with a five-speed manual transmission.

So far, very good. But when I look at the intangible aspects of the Scion iQ and xD, the equation looks even better. Like all Scion models, both of those on my list are distinctive, uniquely styled autos that express individuality, independence and personal flair. I’ll take that image from an auto that also has all the tangible assets of either the iQ or xD.

But while the iQ and xD are good fits for me, I wonder if I’m a good fit for Scion. Toyota established the brand in 2003 to attract young drivers who might not otherwise consider buying a Toyota. That’s why it gave the line a separate brand name and a unique identity.

I may not be a geezer, at least not yet, but I’m still a far cry from the swaggering young hipsters that Toyota first set out to capture with Scion a decade ago. And according to local experience at Rockingham Toyota Scion Honda, in Salem, N.H., I’m not alone.

“Scion attracts everybody,” said Marc Smith, general sales manager at Rockingham. “They were meant for the younger buyer, but Toyota didn’t realize that they were also mpg cars,” referring to the appealing fuel-economy ratings across the Scion line. “Yes, they’re attractive to younger buyers. But as gas prices started moving up, Scion cars became attractive to everybody,” Smith explained.

In addition the the iQ and xD, Scion sells the FR-S ($26,355), a legitimate sports car with rear-wheel drive and all the low-slung, slinky elan that goes with the category.

The front-drive tC ($19,480), Scion’s top-selling car, is a personal-size, sporty coupe that fulfills Scion’s original goal of grabbing young drivers. At Rockingham, said Smith, the tC is a favorite of single women, often recent college grads who are starting professional careers. “It’s such a good looking car that it makes a statement,” he said. On the other hand, “when a male buys it, it usually gets a lot of accessories,” especially from tuners, who customize their cars to make them emblems of self-expression.

A fifth model in Scion’s 2013 line-up, the xB ($17,055), is a small, upright wagon that packs a lot of hauling space inside, just like the xD.

Because the xB and xD carry loads economically, they’re purchased by many small businesses, like florists, pizza shops and auto-parts stores to handle local deliveries, Smith said. Often an xB gets a graphic wrap that makes it a roving billboard advertising the business.

“It’s a great vehicle to wrap,” he stated. “A lot of businesses like it for that. We have an xB here to deliver parts that’s wrapped with a picture of our golden retriever, Brody. It’s a unique looking vehicle,” which means it gets noticed, said Smith.

But even if Scions attract people from outside Toyota’s original, young-and-trendy target, the brand achieves its primary role of bringing new people to Toyota and, importantly, keeping them there.

At Rockingham, Smith sees a good number of Scion owners staying with the line.

“A customer in an xB might go to another xB,” he illustrated.

Many others graduate to a Toyota model, especially when their needs change, Smith said.

“If they need a truck, they might bring back a tC or an xB and go into a Toyota Tundra or Tacoma. Or a Highlander if they need an SUV,” he stated.

Craig Taguchi, spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said that national statistics back up the local experience at Rockingham Toyota Scion Honda.

“Owners who trade in a Scion are most likely to buy a Toyota or another Scion model than any other make,” he said.

Regarding the age issue, Taguchi explained that “Scion also exists to attract new buyers that have never owned a Toyota, Scion or a Lexus before. (Lexus is the luxury brand owned by Toyota.) A nice fact is that 65 percent of all Scion buyers are brand new to the Toyota family.”

And although a slice of those buyers may be oldsters, Scion still does very well with youngsters, too, he noted.

“At 37 years old, Scion has the youngest median-age drivers in the automotive industry. The Scion tC has the youngest drivers with a median age of just 28,” Taguchi said.

Then comes the FR-S sports car, which Scion introduced only five months ago. “Despite the fact that it is the most expensive model in the Scion family, it is attracting a median-age driver of only 31 years old,” he said.

So after 10 years in the market, instead of just youngsters alone, Toyota has both novices and seasoned vets going for its Scion cars. That’s a botched strategy that any auto company would be proud of.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2013 Scion models FR-S: Rear-drive sports car, $26,355 iQ: Premium micro car, $16,140 tC: Sporty two-door coupe, $19,480 to $20,480 xB: Urban utility vehicle. $17,055 to $18,005 xD: Urban subcompact hatchback, $16,500 to $17,300