Introducing New Vehicles, Scion Sticks With The Unconventional

Scion, Toyota's four-year-old third division whose métier has been to present its vehicles as canvases for youngish car customizers, has brought out its new version of the boxy xB car--which became the division's top seller and will soon launch its first totally new vehicle, xD, since the introduction of the tC coupe two years ago.

But if Steve Haag, divisional corporate manager, is right, the effort will keep with the Scion marketing tactic of sticking with unconventional media, and lifestyle-focused marketing--with the brand idea, not the vehicles, at stage center.

The new xB, a foot longer and three inches wider than the previous model and more powerful, went on sale two weeks ago, with the xD slated to roll into showrooms in August. The company unveiled both the second-generation xB and the xD at the Chicago Auto Show in February. Haag, who was in New York this week to attend a test drive event for both vehicles, says that marketing approach for both will focus on Internet, guerrilla and events.



Haag says the brand's marketing template is to "keep Scion surprising, versatile and exclusive." The campaign centers on viral marketing with support from billboards, postings, magazine inserts and dealer-run events, as well as support of art and music happenings.

Marketing for the xB began in March with a Web push,, a multifarious site on which consumers can win points toward prizes depending on how long they remain on the site.

"We focus on fashion, film and music, tuner events, online communities, with entertaining viral content facilitating product discovery," Haag says, adding that "product discovery" doesn't mean advertising products per se. The main consumer site for Scion,, includes a calendar of events, links with dealerships and provides links both to the Want2BSquare site and a Scion presence on the virtual world sites and Second Life.

Haag says the only TV-style advertising that Scion is running currently is in cinemas; the division also has a "viral" videos effort associated with its Web effort--all light on branding, and heavy on entertainment value.

When Scion vehicles are shown they are either icons or heavily customized versions. "Since launch, we market the brand first, because the consumers we are marketing to learn about the cars online. They might know more about the product than we do. What we do is build awareness within the right communities," he says.

"The Want2BSquare site has no Scion logo or branding, and television doesn't work really well for us. Honestly, as targeted as we are, it will be difficult to reach our target buyers on TV." He says Scion's relatively low volume means a big TV spend would be superfluous.

About 900 of Toyota's 1,225 dealers sell Scion, which accounted for 170,000 units delivered last year. Per Haag, the company expects to sell about 150,000 Scions this year because it will take time to ramp up sales of new products.

Haag also says Scion is fulfilling its role of bringing younger consumers who would ordinarily never consider a Scion vehicle into the Toyota family. "About 80% of Scion buyers are new to Toyota, and 10% are returning to the brand," he says, adding that of former Scion vehicle owners returning to market to buy a new car, 17% have returned to Scion, while "the vast majority" has bought Toyota-branded vehicles. "A small number have gone to Lexus."

Toyota division, which launched the Yaris sub-compact car last year, has been borrowing marketing tactics from its younger sibling, Scion, with an urban-lifestyle approach.

"A lot of what Toyota has done recently is similar to what we have done with Scion. We are finding out that how we go to market is more efficient and more credible for our target, so you are seeing Yaris doing some of that. And the Yaris price point is actually lower than ours--we are sold side by side effectively in dealerships, and frankly, a lot choose Yaris," he says.

He also says that the market sweet spot for Scion, in terms of regional footprint is the so-called "Smile Belt," basically California, the Southwest and Southeast and the East Coast.

He says he would like to see fewer of Toyota's dealers selling the brand, particularly in markets where Scion doesn't have a large target-demo population. "We'd like to have fewer dealers nationally than we do. But if a dealer says 'Yes, I commit to the training and facility investments,' we can't say no," he says.

Currently, there are no exclusive Scion dealers--dealers who only sell Scion cars--although, per Haag, some 15 national dealers do have separate showrooms.

Ironically, given the brand's distinctive brand positioning versus Toyota, the company would prefer Scions to be sold in Toyota showrooms.

"We'd prefer them to be 'shop-and-shop'," he says. "Scion is not about massive volume, so we don't want to have the overhead that would make us have a lot of extra cost; we want to be able to benefit from Toyota's volume and traffic, and for Toyota to benefit from the Scion brand halo."

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