In may ways, the story of Scion automobiles starts in 1937. That year, Toyota Motor Corporation was spun off from Toyota Industries Corporation specifically to build cars.
The first Japanese manufacturer to offer a car in the United States, Toyota Motor Corporation is one of world’s three largest auto builders.
With their reputation for value, durability, and reliability, Toyota’s cars are among the best selling in the world. Thing is, in some segments of the market, success with one demographic breeds contempt with another. For example, Baby Boomers’ parents drove station wagons. When Boomers got old enough to have families of their own and needed something like a station wagon, many considered them old fashioned and opted for minivans instead. So, of course, young people today wouldn't be caught dead in a minivan.
Similarly, because of the success of the Toyota brand with more established customers, the company came to realize it was having trouble attracting younger buyers to the marque.
In an attempt to remedy this, Toyota launched an internal program called Project Genesis in 1999. The idea was to market three upcoming Toyota models in a manner deemed likely to attract a more youthful consumer. The goal was in effect, to create a brand within the brand with its own sales and advertising strategy for three new compact coupe models sold by Toyota.
Yoshimi Inaba, the president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, along with James Press, then Toyota Motor Sales chief operating officer, devised a plan to more aggressively promote the Toyota Celica, MR2 Spyder, and Toyota Echo to younger buyers. By all accounts, the project did not achieve the success envisioned for it and was scrapped in 2001. However, the lessons learned from the endeavor directly informed the strategies eventually employed by the Scion brand when it was launched in 2002.
A number of studies were done to determine the best way to reach the so-called Generation Y consumers. It was determined the traditional methods of advertising (radio, TV, and print) alone would not drive the sort of demand Toyota was looking to achieve for Scion. Instead, a campaign of guerilla marketing was prescribed in an effort to indirectly endear the vehicles to the Gen Y customers—basically, to hit them where they “lived”.
In 2002, this increasingly meant the Internet.
Posters, ads in movie theaters, and targeted messaging on key television shows were all employed to direct traffic to Scion’s Want2bSquare Websites—playing off of the boxy shape of one of the original Scion models.
Youth oriented events with edgy pop bands and DJs in such offbeat venues as Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay were held to promote the brand. The company also targeted the niche demographic with small, regional-based viral marketing campaigns. Online advertising was a heavy component of the marketing mix, but rather than simple banner ads and skyscrapers, Scion used quirky campaigns like Scion xPressionism to allow Web users to design their own Scion models with graphics, decals, and aftermarket parts. Individuality was a significant aspect of the Scion message. The brand also got its own Internet radio station. Scion Radio 17’s 17 non-mainstream channels range from Rock and Hip Hop, to Electro and Soul.
To ease the buying process, the Scion “Pure Price” strategy was devised to eliminate lengthy dealer negotiation sessions for young buyers. The goal was to make the dealership a friendly, non-threatening place in much the same fashion as GM’s Saturn brand had done in the latter part of the 1980s. The price on the sticker was the price of the car—no haggling required. In addition to the cars, this strategy extended to insurance and financing purchases as well.
Customization was another key aspect of the Scion marketing strategy; both in terms of performance, as well as comfort and convenience items. By all accounts, the sale of accessories really drove the brand. Further, it was mandated all accessories would be sold separately—giving the customer the flexibility to outfit their car in the way most pleasing to them, as opposed to being dictated to by a product planning team.
The first Scion models went on sale in June of 2003, after being introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show in January of that year. Initially, Scion automobiles were offered only through 105 dealers in California. In February of 2004, the brand was expanded to the rest of the country.
The first two Scion models offered in the United States were the boxy xB, which became the iconic model for the brand, and the more wedge-shaped xA, which looked almost conventional in comparison. The models were offered in one rather well equipped state of trim to further simplify the purchase process. While they came to the U.S. badged Scion, they were actually Japanese home market Toyota models. The xA was known as the “ist” in Japan, while the xB was known as the Toyota bB.
One year later, the Scion tC “sporty coupe” was introduced. This model would eventually go on to become the best-selling Scion model—once the trendy xB’s initial appeal wore off. As the xB and xA were based on already running models, they were replaced rather quickly (for a car brand) with all-new products. The “second generation” xB and the xA’s replacement, the Scion xD, were first shown in 2006—before being officially launched at the 2007 Chicago Auto Show.
In 2008, Toyota showed the iQ city car for the first time at the Geneva Auto Show in March of that year. The car was brought to the United States as the Scion iQ for model year 2011. An ultra compact city car, sized almost halfway between a MINI Cooper and a Smart Fortwo, the iQ was also outfitted with an exceptionally luxurious interior and offered as the Aston Martin Cygnet.
Following the iQ, Scion introduced its first rear-drive sports car in the form of the Scion FR-S for 2012. Developed in conjunction with Subaru, the Scion FR-S also featured a horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. Ironically, the exciting FR-S sports car represents Scion’s most "conformist" offering ever—to date.