Although Toyota introduced its Scion division in the U.S. some eight years ago, it�s only just now making its way into Canada.
Why the delay? Two main reasons, according to the company. First, they wanted to see how things went in the States before they took the trouble of introducing Scion to the relatively small Canadian market. Second, the Generation Y-ers who are the primary target for these vehicles hadn�t reached their full demographic potential in Canada by 2002, and Toyota didn�t want to go through all the effort of setting up dealerships, building an advertising campaign, bringing in service personnel, and all the rest to address a market that wasn�t there to begin with.
They needn�t have worried. To date, Toyota has sold well over 700,000 of its Scion models in the States, and the Generation Y-ers that the company has been courting so assiduously have responded enthusiastically and positively. And just to clarify: apparently, a Generation Y-er is not the same as an echo-boomer. Different groups, different sensibilities. OK then.
Whatever they�re called, in the great white north, that market is a little tougher, according to Stephen Beatty, managing director of Toyota Canada. Apparently, Canadian Gen-Yers aren�t pre-disposed to buy cars in the first place, and many are still content to ride their bicycles or skim along on skateboards. They do not see cars as a necessity and public transit suits many Gen-Yers just fine. Plus, they have "notoriously" bad credit, and just haven�t jumped onto the consumer bandwagon with the same gusto as their parents. "This is a tough crowd to sell a car to," commented Beatty at the Canadian launch of the Scion, in Vancouver.
The other big question that lingers with Scion is: why not sell it with a Toyota badge? Surely, their current troubles notwithstanding, Toyota has one of the most enviable reputations in the business and a car with Toyota stamped on it is usually a guarantee of success.
Again, it�s about the demographics. Toyota�s marketing mavens reckon that if their parents buy something, then Generation Y won�t have anything to do with it. The last thing in the world they want to be seen driving is a Camry.
Thus Scion, which, to start with, will come in three basic models: xD, xB, tC, and later, the iQ. From the top, these are a five-door hatchback, a mini-van-slash CUV, and a two-door coupe. The iQ, which is scheduled to debut sometime in the new year, is a funky micro-hatchback similar to the new Fiat 500.
Perhaps the model that is most representative of Scion is the xB wagon. This was one of the first models to hit the U.S. market, back in 2002, and ushered in the whole "hip to be square" trend that has spawned the likes of the Honda Element, Nissan Cube, and Kia Soul. It�s a functional mobile box with four doors and a hatchback, and is powered by a 2.4 litre four cylinder with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. It does not have an all-wheel-drive option, and the back seats fold down to reveal almost 11 cubic feet (308 litres) of cargo volume.
The xB is utilitarian without being bleak, and although it�s aimed at physically active Gen-Yers, is bound to appeal to anyone that needs to move stuff or people on a regular basis. By way of comparison, when Honda introduced its Element, a few years back, it too was ostensibly aimed at active Y-ers who cycled, surfed, boarded, and skated as part of their lifestyle. It ended up being the vehicle of choice for aging baby boomers and garage-sale trolling grannies, and the xB, despite Toyota�s marketing insights, may enjoy the same fate.
But what�s interesting about the xB – and all Scion models – is the pricing structure. According to Stephen Beatty, the price quoted by the company is all-in, and includes standard features such as air conditioning, cruise control, power door locks, tilt-telescoping steering, power windows with one-touch up/down feature on the driver�s side, Bluetooth, and a full whack of safety features. Apparently, there are no options and what you see is what you get.
That said, you can also order leather interior with heated front seats, an engine block heater, upgraded stereo, rorty exhaust, glitzy 18-inch alloy wheels, lowering kit, heavy duty clutch and so on. These extras, however, are classed as accessories, not options. You say tomato, I say tomato. Base price for the xB is $18,270, with another $1000 for the automatic.
After spending a full day driving the xB – and other Scions – around Vancouver, a few observations. First up, traffic downtown is paralytic with construction everywhere you turn and driving in Vancouver is hellish. With that out of the way, assembly quality on all models is first-rate (all Scions are made in Japan), these are excellent city cars, with nimble performance and good peripheral visibility, and all have good fuel economy. The xB, for example, delivers 9.5 litres per 100 kilometres in the city, and 7.2 L/100 km on the highway for both the manual and automatic transmission versions.
And at just over eighteen large, the xB is a lot of car for the money. That�s something that transcends all demographic categories.