Scion is Toyota’s experiment to market cars expressly to Gen-Y, the 18-34 crowd that constitutes what the company calls, "an emerging culture of new-car buyers." The plan has been the subject of much debate and op-ed wrangling (e.g., Todd Lassa’s "Perspective," Motor Trend, February 2003) centering on the advisability of targeting an audience that resents being targeted and whether a big company can successfully make something these young consumers will deem cool.
The strategy makes an intriguing marketing story, and discussions about it will continue for years. But, for the moment, let’s put that aside and do something we haven’t been able to do until now: take a drive in the hardware at the center of this exercise. Because no matter how the marketing resonates with a particular audience, in the end, what customers will be paying for—or not—is a car, not a pitch.
So what’s the deal on the xA and xB, the two products Scion will launch this year? Awfully good cars. Probably better than they need to be. And they’re killer values at the prices being charged. A good product at a great price will find an audience, whether or not it’s exactly the one the manufacturer envisioned. (You’ve noticed all the 40-somethings in Honda Elements?) We boldly predict the Scions will indeed sell. To whom? Well, to someone or other.
Both Scion models, the mini-sportwagon xA and the square-box xB, are derivatives of Japanese-market models (the ist and the bB, respectively) and are based on a Toyota Echo foundation. Wherever they go on sale (in California this June, the rest of the country over the next year), they will immediately remove any rationale for buying an Echo. Though clearly economy cars, the Scions are stylish (whether you like them or not is something else, but they are stylish), comfortable, and actually fun to drive. They come well equipped (essentially only one way, aside from a choice of transmission and dealer accessorization) for MSRPs of $12,480 (xA manual), $13,280 (xA automatic), $13,680 (xB manual), and $14,480 (xB automatic).
The xA, especially, is right down in base-strippo-Civic territory and not far out of the price basement where Kia Rios and Hyundai Accents trade. And for that, you get a Toyota-built product with air-conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, tilt wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seat, and much more, including a powerful six-speaker audio system with MP3 capability and digitally processed ambiance settings. Aside from dress-up add-ons (shift knobs, steering wheels, decals, spoilers, wheel covers, roof racks, stereo upgrade, and the rest), the only option of note is the $650 side airbags in the xA. To whatever extent the standard-equipment list contributes to that cool quotient, the Scions are pretty chillin’.