Thursday, March 27, 2008

Scion Lineup Will Expand - But How Much?

By Chris Haak


Although Scion's lineup still has only three models (the xB, xD, and tC), sales have been down fairly significantly in recent months (2007 sales were down 24.8% compared to 2006, and are down 6.7% in the first two months of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007.

Initially, when Scion sales figures were comparing unfavorably to prior years, the brand's management would attribute the drop to intentionally limiting supply to keep the brand "hip," or to the new model changeover. The second excuse really never flew with me, knowing how brutally efficient Toyota production is. After all, they don't let Toyota dealers run out of Camrys when a new model changeover occurs. More recently, however, Toyota executives have admitted that the launch of the two newest models, the second-generation xB and the new xD, was mishandled. In addition to that, I'd submit that those two vehicles are not meeting the requirements or desires of their buyers. The xB has become a larger, heavier, less efficient vehicle, yet has similar interior volume to the old model (albeit better crash test scores). In other words, they're almost trying too hard. Keep that previous sentence in your mind for a moment.

According to Jack Hollis, vice president at Scion, the brand's lineup size could conceivably double to six models in the coming years. The three existing models will probably remain in the lineup for the foreseeable future, but with expectations of flat sales (Hollis hopes to maintain a combined sales figure of about 130,000 units for those three models, similar to what they sold in 2007, but below the 173,000 sold in 2006). Additional models under consideration officially includes any "youthful" Toyota product sold anywhere in the world that could be federalized to meet US standards and buyer expectations. Models under consideration would need to have the potential to reach either 20,000 to 25,000 units, or 40,000 to 50,000 units - similar to what each model manages currently.

Back to the topic of trying too hard to be different and hip, I prsent the most recent concept car that Scion displayed, the Hako coupe. The Hako could be one of those future products. If it ever reaches production (and let's cross our fingers that the gods of good taste strike down the idea before that ever happens), and if a production version kept the completely ridiculous vertical windshield and A-pillars, I don't see Scion setting any sales records. Perhaps I'm too old to understand Scion, but I almost feel as if Toyota is intentionally making the new models hideous just to be "different" and to see what they can get away with. Now, if you put your thumb over the windshield in the above photo and imagine that it has a "normal" one, the Hako goes from being ludicrous to only being unattractive. Aside from the windshield, it would almost make a better xB than the actual xB did, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Scion's product planners trying much, much harder to capture the essence of the original xB when they go back to the drawing board for the third generation. Reminding consumers of the original xB was probably part of the reason for the Hako concept.

Another rumored possibility for Scion is that a vehicle similar to the Toyota A-BAT pickup (shown in Detroit this past January in concept form) could be a Scion when it becomes production vehicle. It seems to be a reasonable guess, since it's small and efficient, as Scions used to be, with some fun, youthful touches. The other possibility for a production A-BAT in my mind is to call it the Prius A-BAT if the rumors of an entire lineup of Priuses ever come to fruition.

Regardless of what models are chosen - a small convertible and a non-pickup hybrid are other possibilities - it will have to be easily customizable by owners, with a wide array of accessories and performance parts available from the start at dealers. Let's hope that Scion can get their new models to look good, and that they don't ruin the handsome, yet somewhat dated clean shape of the tC when it's restyled in the coming years.

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