Toyota Scion: An epitaph for the little brand that tried

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On February 3rd, 2016, Toyota quietly pulled the plug on its quirky niche brand, Scion.

The fact that Toyota chose to kill the Scion brand may not be a complete surprise to marketers, nor to Wall Street. While the initial launch of Scion was strong, sales have dwindled over the past few years. What is surprising, though, is how little people are talking about the death of this trailblazing brand.

The announcement came and went, getting less press than the end of a model created by another brand might garner. And yet, the death of Scion has big implications from a brand strategy standpoint—not just for Toyota but for the entire automobile industry. Here are three reasons why we should all mourn the death of Scion.

  1. Scion innovated the car buying experience.
    If you are like me and you equate visiting a dealership to going to the dentist, you are probably not alone. Scion recognized that buying a car should not be a painful process. It simplified the dealership experience buy taking the hassle out of the car buying process, allowing for customization, innovative brand experiences in their dealerships, and an ease of purchase that was unheard of in the industry at the time.
  1. It catered to a niche audience.
    Cars are generally built for the masses, but Scion took a stand against sameness. It saw a generation that desired to be different and built cars designed for them. Its marketing was quirky and had a definitive message and target—Millennials, a demographic famously flippant about spending, no less towards the car-buying market. As a brand, it aligned itself with customization and differentiation, which is something few car brands use as a platform to sell vehicles.
  1. Scion experimented with car design.
    How many times have you mistaken a Honda for a Toyota? A Chevy for a Lincoln? While its boxy look might not have been for everyone, it was at least different, which is something hard to find in the car market today. By differentiating itself through the vehicle design itself, Scion positioned itself uniquely in the market through a undeniably unique look. There were critics, yes, but you always know (knew) a Scion when you see (saw) one.

In its announcement, Toyota cited a shift in youth buyers—and a shift in their desire to be different from their parents’ generation as the reason for killing the brand, which would seem counter intuitive to the mission of the brand as it was marketed to buyers. The truth is, Toyota had long abandoned Scion. Being different requires significant investment, and after the recession, Toyota turned its attention back to the mass market.

The death of the Scion brand signals not just the end of an era for Toyota, but of an industry that has lost its way in terms of diversifying markets to shift product. The automobile industry—and Toyota specifically—is now one where the economics don’t support the development of niche brands, and where being “different” isn’t enough to keep people interested anymore. And that is worth talking about.

Rest in peace, Scion – we hardly knew ye.

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