When Toyota started Scion in 2001, nobody expected it to do much of anything. It didn’t. Well, yes, the original xB was an all star smash hit, and the tC was a great combination of bulletproof reliability combined with an astonishingly low asking price, but everything else they did, let’s be honest here, was a massive flop.
The 2001 xB was an excellent car. It was fun to drive, affordable, and instantly lovable. It was, in my eyes, the modern version of the original VW Type 1 Beetle. It was originally marketed towards Gen X, but everyone from teenagers to seniors bought it. It was just that kind of car. Every 10 years or so, there’s a car like that. It comes out of nowhere, sells like cocaine in the 1980s, and is fondly remembered by many. The “toaster,” as it was affectionately called wasn’t fast – it was far from it. It was safe, it had almost as much space as a minivan, thanks to its boxy shape and was easily customizable – from the dealer!
Yes, you could walk into a Toyota dealership that sold Scions (I’ll get to that in a bit, I swear), and get a Scion xB, then go over to their customizing desk, and decide how you wanted to customize your xB, all within 20 feet of each other! There were so many options, you had to fill out a questionnaire so the customizing agent could help you out! The great part about this was that you could customize the car to your specific taste, not worry about voiding the warranty and walk out within two hours.
The 2001 Scion xB was the car that kicked off the dealer accessory craze. It was a great marketing tool for many brands. Want a roof rack? You had a choice between Thule and Yakima, and between the two, literally 50 different roof racks to choose from. Want a wrap on your xB? The techs could slap it on in 20 minutes. The list goes on. All these accessories were affordable – you could walk out of the dealership with a Scion xB, customized the way you wanted it, with a good warranty, fully registered and insured, for $22,000.
That’s what the appeal was. As I said, everyone from teenagers to seniors, and everyone in between bought the car. It shocked Scion’s marketing team, and even Toyota. Nobody predicted so many cars would be sold.
Unfortunately, Scion failed to deliver with the second-generation xB. It had gigantic shoes to fill, but it had baby feet. It was heavier – almost 500 pounds heavier. It was more expensive; to the point that people walked over to the Toyota sales desk and bought a Matrix. It used to be that the Matrix was just a hatchback Corolla (the xB was too), but it was kind of like trying to differentiate between twins. The Matrix was cheaper, but it didn’t have the instant customizability that the xB had. The difference showed in sales – Scion still had all their repeat buyers, but the Matrix was just a better car overall. Buyers went to the Matrix, until Toyota killed it in 2013.
Onto the tC. It was a perfectly fine car, but by no means was it on the same level as the Mazda 3 or the Honda Civic. The build quality was great, no doubt about that. It just left something to be desired. But, it was cheap. Dirt cheap. That’s why every 8th car you see on the road is one. Well, maybe not that many, but it sure seems like it. It wasn’t as easily customizable as the xB, but it certainly had it’s benefits. It was cheap enough for those starting to get into the automotive scene to modify it like no tomorrow, but drive it to school or work every day. The Mazda 3 could do that too, but was more expensive. It was also marketed towards college students and above.
Let’s talk about the stupidity of selling Scions next to Toyotas that were similar in price. Seriously, who at Toyota, when they were planning Scion, thought that was a good idea? It’s like selling candy bars next to each other. You can’t choose the right one. That’s what happens when there are too many options. Scion sales would go sky-high for a couple months, then Toyota compact car sales would overtake them like you wouldn’t believe. It was just a constant game of tug-of-war.
Imagine walking into an Armed Forces recruitment center, with all the recruiters standing there, all trying to give you “the best deal you’ll get.” The truth is, they all offer the same thing, but they disguise it well. Just choose the one you like best and the others will find somebody else.
This was Scion’s ultimate downfall in my eyes. They simply couldn’t compete with the elephant in the room.
Yes, they had other problems. Their other cars were practically carbon copies of Toyotas. Why buy a Toyota Yaris hatchback when you could buy a Scion xD? The Yaris was cheaper, and had essentially the same things going for it. The xD had a bit more power, but the Yaris at least looked halfway decent. The xD looked like someone chiseled a block of concrete with an ax, slapped wheels and a price tag on it, and pitched it to Scion.
What might have been the best car Scion made, apart from the 2001 xB, was the FR-S. It was cheap, which was Scion’s main selling point. It was an incredibly fun car to drive, and the perfect one for the budding autocrosser or track day enthusiast. It’s biggest downfall is that Subaru and Toyota sold the exact same car, but with different badges. Yes, I know it was badge engineering, but why buy the Scion when you could buy the Subaru? That was the dilemna many prospective owners faced. It offered more utility and just as much fun as the Miata, but it was a price difference of $2000 between the Scion and the Subaru.
So, what was Scion’s downfall? Poor sales after the redesign of the first-generation xB, offering similar, if not identical products, and no dedicated dealers. Will I miss Scion? Yes. I will miss the magic that the 2001 xB brought to the automotive world, the affordable performance the FR-S brought wailing and burbling into the automotive world, the instant and easy customizability that any Scion brought, and the ferocious sibling rivalry between Toyota and Scion.
Will Scions keep their value? Who knows. Only time will tell. The resale value of the 2001-2007 xB has certainly held up, and likely will for a while. They are cheap, but the price hasn’t gone up or down, like most cars. The tC, a fantastic car in it’s own right, may hold up. It’s hard to tell with that one. The FR-S? Maybe, maybe not. It was a worthy Miata competitor, but it’s identical siblings, the Subaru BR-Z and Toyota GT86 (non-North America markets only), will still be in production.
I am saddened that Scion couldn’t clean up their act, but they obviously weren’t competitive. Their market went away. They had a nice run though, and there are certainly other choices.