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Toyota aims for new markets with Scion

August 07, 2004|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

Toyota's Scion division plans to meet the ABCs of youth transportation needs with three models aptly named the xA, xB and tC.

While other car companies offer a smattering of vehicles that cater to the demanding sub-30 crowd, Toyota has gone the extra distance by creating a separate brand - Scion - that, it hopes, younger buyers will go for.

The rationale is simple enough. Toyota's current entry-level Echo, Corolla and Matrix, although successful, haven't fully enticed the intended (younger) audience. Although part of the reason relates to price, there's also the perception that the Toyota name is historically tied to an older demographic, borne out by the 40-plus median buying age of the company's products.

The plan is for Scion to capture Toyota's fair share of emerging new car buyers with a one-two-three punch of attractive products that are as easy to buy as they are cool to own.

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Just how easy Scion makes the purchase process is demonstrated by the showroom (also called the discovery zone in Scion-speak). There, the focus is less on initial contact with sales personnel and more on getting to know the cars and viewing peripherals such as giant plasma display screens and Internet kiosks for accessing the Scion website. The sales staff doesn't hassle their young prospects with a lengthy options list since, other than transmission, color and air bag choices, only a few dealer-installed add-ons such as alloy wheels, fog lamps, rear spoiler and side graphics are offered. They also won't haggle with you over the posted price, which is the price.

To further personalize your ride, Scion dealers can direct you to a group of selected aftermarket suppliers that offer all manner of speed and performance parts for your consideration.

The first two vehicles out of the gate, the wagon-shaped xA and bread-van-shaped xB, were launched in California in June 2003. Now there are Scion stores in 25 states, representing 60 percent of all Toyota dealers.

The xA and xB both use a modified Echo platform and each are fitted with its 108-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder powerplant and your choice of a five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. The xB, however, gets the nod for most controversial design. If it's a deliberate move on Toyota's part to develop instant on-the-street recognition, it certainly works.

The xB is also roomier and has four king-size doors and a large liftgate that can swallow all kinds of oversized goods.

On the other hand, the xA's more conventional, but still attractive appearance won't attract as many eyeballs, but the car appears more macho with its rounded lines accented by bulging fenders.

The $12,500 xA and $13,700 xB come with an impressive content list, including air conditioning, tilt steering, anti-lock brakes, traction control, keyless remote entry, rear window wiper, six-speaker audio system with CD/MP3 player and power windows, mirrors and door locks. The xB adds stability control.

But it doesn't stop there. The tC hatchback sports coupe is about to be unveiled with a $16,000 base price to beat up on most of its competitors. No need to pay extra for a moonroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, power hatchback release or rear seats that recline up to 45 degrees. Again, just select your color and either a base five-speed stick or optional four-speed automatic transmission and drive it away.

The tC is propelled by a 160-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder motor, but that output can be raised to around 200 horsepower with a dealer-installed supercharger designed by Toyota Racing Development (TRD).

As a newly emerging division backed by a well-known name, Scion is positioned to have a major impact on those elusive younger buyers that Toyota seeks. And with solid value for the money, don't be surprised if a few older folks sneak over to the Scion side of the showroom for a look-see as well.

Copyright 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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