By on March 25, 2016

Scion Booth Sign at 2016 New York International Auto Show, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Prior to the New York International Auto Show, Toyota distributed an upbeat press release. Come party with us, it said. “Scion is not going away quietly.”

Yet, as I walk toward Scion’s booth, a quiet unease fills a void once occupied by a loud, confident generational pulse. The typical eye-catching signs with heavily embossed, trendy hashtags are all but entirely absent upon my arrival. Massive subwoofers sit dormant inside 13 years’ worth of one-off tuner concepts. Engineered studio lighting softly highlights the vehicles on display, while simultaneously attempting to hide the vast, empty spaces between them.

Scion’s show booths are normally chock-full of tchotchkes and the beautiful people handing them out — but not today.

Scion Booth at the 2016 New York International Auto Show, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

You see, Scion’s booth is located far away from the main action of the week. In many ways, Jacob Javits Center’s North Hall is the auto show version of New York’s Hart Island.

Shortly after the Civil War, Hart Island became the dumping ground of New York City’s unclaimed dead. The mass grave operates primarily as a potter’s field. North Hall, free of the constant hum of activity that electrifies the main auto show floor, is the surreal orphanage of brands oft-forgotten: Mitsubishi, Mini and (surprisingly) Subaru, in addition to Scion. And it’s in this hall that the Japanese giant’s uncommon resignation manifests itself. Scion sits cast out, chagrined, and surrounded by signs that read “Scion by Toyota” as if forced to completely give up its own identity.

Against an eerie backdrop of absolute silence, the booth operates entirely unstaffed. A security guard stands subdued in the far corner of the booth, swinging one of her legs to and fro as if to boringly kick an invisible soccer ball over and over. Near her, an auto show custodian kills time between vehicle dustings to aimlessly poke at one of the booth’s marketing installations.

Six concepts that helped define Scion’s raison d’être at various points in its brief history populate one end of booth. Among them is the near-perfect Scion BBx Concept that launched the brand in 2002 to near ravenous intrigue. It evolved soon after into the production Scion xB — a rebadged Japanese import loved by a generation that craved style and practicality in an affordable package. In contrast, the horrendous Slayer tC show car is evidence that Scion completely lost its way by 2014. It’s this sliding scale of concepts that portended the brand’s current reality of dissolution.

Scion Booth Concepts at 2016 New York International Auto Show, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Just as I was contemplating my exit, a stocky man with thinning hair appears in the booth escorted by an entourage of handlers. He’s wearing a conservative suit that’s entirely unbecoming of a Scion enthusiast. Yet, this man is none other than Jim Lentz, founding vice president of Scion and current CEO of Toyota Motor North America.

I approach Mr. Lentz with trepidation, and — surprisingly — he’s more than willing to stand with me as we admire what once was and what will no longer be.

“It’s fun when you look at all the old concepts to see how daring Scion was to push the envelope,” Lentz says with a slight smile of remembrance. “It’s sad to see it go, but — at the same time — it served its purpose.”

I continue to peruse the booth after our chat, inspecting the vehicles and displays while also trying to understand this overwhelming sense of finality. There’s something soul crushing about it all, but I can’t put my finger on it. I feel like a club patron who’s arrived two hours too early.

Then I realize something staggering: nobody else is coming.

If you don’t remember, Scion’s purpose was to cater to us: the millennials who have slowly increased our buying power to a point where all automakers now consider us a force to be reckoned with. It stuck its neck out in 2003 when others refused to budge.

In years since, our generation has slowly built up its buying power to captivate the attention of Ford, GM, and even Toyota itself, to the point where Scion’s existence was no longer a niche proposition. Now, in its death, instead of being surrounded by friends in its time of hospice, Scion’s exit is being treated with the same collective indignity as Christo’s slow and painful death in “The Beach.” Why go to a funeral when there’s a party going on next door?

My only fear is that Scion’s story will be forgotten here, in this automotive Hart Island, and nobody will care enough in decades future to visit the dead.

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60 Comments on “A Funeral at an Auto Show...”


  • avatar
    Chan

    This shows how badly Scion missed its target market after the first generation of cars rolled out more than ten years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      When I was in my 20s, I wanted to prove I was a responsible adult. And I wanted to look the part.

      Scion didn’t have anything for me, back then.

      I always felt like Scion should exist, though.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      When I was younger and in their target demographic I didn’t want a Scion; it was too trendy. Now that I’m older and more practical, it’s amazing how great the xB really was (with a manual).

  • avatar

    I’ll pass this one when I go next week. I don’t go to NYIAS to be depressed. I have paying bills and Facebook political debates for that.

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    I was at the NAIAS the year Scion came out. It’s display was so umm…urban. What with all the gangsta rap blaring, and huddled crowds of Mellenials. “So cool”…everyone muttered.
    Personally, I found it somewhat desperate. Toyota was trying to fool young buyers, much like GM did with Saturn in the early 90s. In the end it was just a way to pump out more cars to people with ADHD. The really stupid part was, all those vehicles could have sold just as well as Toyotas, like in their home market. Toyota didn’t understand that when ANYONE want’s “cheap and cheerful” they buy a Toyota. It’s not a bad thing.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      I think Toyota (or at least influential personalities within) also didn’t grasp that the US was only going to deliver up *one* huge, affluent and youthfully frivolous generation for them to feed upon.

      That generation was no longer young in 2002 and its kids were… well, you know.

  • avatar

    The Scion brand is dead because:

    #1 Kia exists

    #2 Scion barely advertises anymore.

    #3 Kia does

    #4 The FRS was a pathetic bust due to the ridiculous “boxer engine”.

    #5 The generation after me is gonna be so deep in debt, they won’t even be able to consider buying a new car – especially when you factor in their insurance costs.

    Government may consolidate your loans, but they still want damn near 6.8%.

    If I’d designed it, it would have been a standard RICER 4-cylinder with enough space for buyers to shove in Turbochargers the size of Garbage can lids. The FRS/ BRZ are hard to turne and there isn’t any enthusiasm in them.

    MEANWHILE, Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.6-L or 2.0T are solid choices which the internet wants to argue with me: “don’t tyurnnnn az well”

    When the designers of the BRZ and FRS came up with the number: “200 HP” I’d have fired them all and cancelled their pensions.

    Anything less than 300 was completely unacceptable.

    As for the iA and tC… I was actually marginally impressed by the BMW-wannabe interior of the iA which fails miserably on material quality. But, in their defense: They have an idrive knob with a touch screen for system redundancy.

    I’m currently uploading my own NYIAS video, but it’s taking a while to finalize in 4K.

    • 0 avatar
      thenerdishere

      Not every American is 350 pounds.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      “#5 The generation after me is gonna be so deep in debt, they won’t even be able to consider buying a new car.”

      I thought President Trump was gonna fix all that?

    • 0 avatar

      Also: Kia had David Bowie (via remix). Scion had… Gucci Mane. Yeah.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        Dodge’s current use of Metallica has certainly got my attention.

      • 0 avatar
        MrGreenMan

        The Motley Crüe Forte ad was pretty good.

        • 0 avatar
          John

          The Crue, Metallica, Slayer – these bands are OLD. Maybe that’s part of the problem. They were hip in the ’90’s. Bowie – beyond old. If you want to appeal to 20 – somethings, you might want to use bands that weren’t around when the 20 – somethings were conceived. How well would Frank Sinatra have appealed to 20 – something car buyers in 1990?

          • 0 avatar
            Luke42

            Yup, I keep showing my older son AC/DC and Metallica stage show videos and pointing out that they’re about the same age as his grandfather.

            But that they’ve spent all that time learning to rock out, so take notes!

            (He enjoys showmanship.)

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I think you vastly underestimate the number of young people who listen to Motley Crue, Metallica, and Slayer.

            Not all of us only listen to Young Money rap albums and EDM.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      ‘Anything less than 300 was completely unacceptable.”

      For you, maybe…

      My 4400lb Sienna is faster than it needs to be on 269HP.

      But the Mazda5 is more fun to drive at around 150HP.

      My Jetta TDI was lots of fun to drive at 96HP with 267ft-lbs of torque. When it ran…

      HP isn’t everything. Actually, power is pretty boring because its proportional to the size of the check you write, and winning a spending contest isn’t really winning.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Exactly. It’s not how fast you go, it’s how you go fast. My 171 hp can be swooshy at times.

      • 0 avatar
        Piston Slap Yo Mama

        “Power is … proportional to the size of the check you write, and winning a spending contest isn’t really winning.”
        What check? Guys like BTSR are trying to keep up the verisimilitude of affluence while barely staying afloat w/ their loans, leases and 40 year mortgages. It’s cute.

        • 0 avatar

          On top of the fact I own a business…my YouTube alone makes over $2000 a month. I added 1500 subs in the past month alone.

          My YouTube is bigger than TTAC’s in fact.

          Definitely more income.

          MY YOUTUBE IS MAKING SOME PEOPLE’S MORTGAGE TAXES AND INSURANCE every single MONTH.

          think about that…

          Then you’ll understand why I can go out and get cool cars when I feel like it.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          PSYM, not everyone is in the same financial boat you are. There are people among ttac’s B&B who have their financial act together.

          krhodes1 some time ago outlined the difference between income and wealth, and that the two are not always in sync.

          There really are some people who actually are able to afford that difference between men and boys — the price of their toys.

          • 0 avatar
            Piston Slap Yo Mama

            Financial boat? I’m taking a break for beers while skiing on Der Dachstein in Austria. It totally sucks to be me, a man who spends money on experiences rather than things, which is my point: people put too much emphasis on conspicuous consumption for their small egos.
            Pro tip: Schladminger Helles is fantastic.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            PSYM, different strokes for different folks. You spend your money on what you want. Let BTSR spend his money on what he wants, without denigrating comment.

            It galls me when people say that I invest too much money in my kids and grand kids in order to give them a leg up on their competition. But they are the future. And I want them to do well.

            Your conspicuous consumption for your experiences does not speak well of your ego. Maybe others do not share your evaluation of experiences.

            I had my time of great experiences all over Europe when I lived there. Nothing better to me than the good old Southwest of the US of A and a 2016 Tundra pickup truck.

            Values differ. Enjoy your life. Let others do the same.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I was brought up in a VERY affluent family.

            I learned early on that if you have money, you don’t have to brag about how much you make.

            Most people who brag about that, or the size of their dick, are usually full of it.

            My two cents’ worth.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    “It’s sad to see it go, but — at the same time — it served its purpose.”

    Kept Akio away from the important stuff?

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    Scion has been talked to death but lets go over it one more time:

    Gen Y lost much of their buying power as Scion was coming into it’s own due to the massive recession.

    Scion never was allowed to make volume products outside of the xB which had it’s lunch eaten by Kia’s soul. So without a traditional small CUV or sub-compact CUV and a complete lack of mid-size cars basically left them fighting for niche markets.

    Their advertising campaign was completely insane. Internet-only ads, a mish-mash of campaigns, funding concerts. All of those could work if you had an unified advert identity that focused on TV and print as well. Gen Y lives on the net but we’ve consciously learned to tune them out.

    It did from a manufacturing perspective a fine job, sold a few more units with minimal changes and kept the lights on in some factories for some moderate costs. Overall not a bad deal compared to say Edsel or the other companion makes that have emerged and died.

  • avatar

    On the bright side, I applaud whoever had the balls to finally make this long overdue decision. Even the Toyota juggernaut cannot sustain an ill conceived and poorly executed marketing fiasco.

  • avatar

    Mark, you didn’t happen to desaturate those photos, did you? ;)

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Meh. Scion was a desperate (some would say cynical) marketing exercise to try and capitalize on a “youth” market. Sadly, the toaster, versions one and two sold better to my generation (boomers) and the rest, save the tC, were just footnotes in the sales annals.

    The tC was hosed, because just how many kids can afford a two door car’s insurance rates? My daughters are 22 and 25, and while they have very good driving records, their insurance rates on a coupe of any kind is far more that it would be for the CUVs and sedans they have. Like a good neighbor, my ass!

    The last two, the iA and the iM, aren’t that bad, but I’m not entirely sure who they’re aimed at. I personally find the idea of a funky little wagon pretty cool, the youngins’ I know want AWD with their four doors.

    Oh well, goodbye Scion. Tell Plymouth, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Hummer, Saturn and Pontiac I said hello.

  • avatar

    People forget this is Toyota’s SECOND failure to capture the youth market. Project Geneis (Echo, MR2, and Celica) was the first one.

    I’m frankly surprised that Toyota didn’t realize WHY the only two decent performers – xB and tC – sold as well as they did and mimic it with other unique entrants rather than round the lineup out with tepid and broke-looking 5-door hatchbacks.

  • avatar
    anomaly149

    The death of Scion is down to how Toyota manages its brands. All the shots for Toyota US, Scion, and Lexus are called from Japan. The US folks never had any say in what product the brand got or in the content those cars had. It’s easy to see this: what “young-facing” brand would ever exist without a B- or C-segment crossover? A spitshined RAV-4 isn’t rocket science.

    Granted, it’ll be sad to see the tC go. Give it AWD and pitch it against the Impreza/WRX, and you suddenly have a compelling product. Possibly even more compelling to the market than the FR-Slow.

    But the rest of it? A city car/speedbump, 3! samey compact hatchbacks, and a (delightful) shoebox last refreshed the same year as the Lincoln Navigator? Not the products the market wanted.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      ” It’s easy to see this: what “young-facing” brand would ever exist without a B- or C-segment crossover?”

      funny how they killed the brand just as one of said crossovers was ready to go. the C-HR was supposed to be a Scion.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Hindsight wisdom, but Scion was an especially ill-advised attempt at GM-style badge marketing. “Especially” because its target demographic is more interested in smart phones than anything with wheels.

  • avatar
    The_Imperialist

    I don’t care about Scion one way or another, but Mark, you’re one hell of a writer. Good read.

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    Dear Millenial:
    Welcome to the real world where death is everywhere. Get used to it.
    – Baby Boomer

  • avatar

    Baby Boomers were supposed to forever young and rebellious by design.

    GM’s Saturn project was different from Scion in the sense that Saturns were unique designs including engines and not rebadges like Scions were. Saturn served its purpose but in best GM’s tradition the parent company ignored its own experiment making it useless waste of money. So Saturn’s death was a more depressing event event than Scion’s. Olds was a real innovating company bought by GM and Pontiac was renamed Oakland Motor Car company from 30s – also the real car company bought by GM. Scion is more like Mercury.

    • 0 avatar

      While Oakland was one of General Motors’ foundational brands, a 50% interest having been acquired by Billy Durant in 1909, by the time the Pontiac brand was created in the late 1920s, Oakland was no more a “real car company” than any of the other GM divisions (though they were indeed far more independent into the 1960s than they are today). Pontiac was created as a “companion” brand to Oakland, slightly less expensive, as LaSalle was to Cadillac and Marquette was to Buick. The Viking brand was a slightly more expensive Oldsmobile. The companion brands were introduced to fill gaps in Alfred Sloan’s car for every purse business model but the Great Depression intervened. Marquette only lasted one year, Viking for two plus a few hundred cars assembled from leftover parts. LaSalle survived till the late 1930s. Pontiac, however, was an instant success, within the first model year, 1926, it was outselling its parent brand Oakland. That success may have inspired the rest of the companion brands.

      • 0 avatar

        Companion brands proliferation was due to depression rather than Sloan model. After depression ended all of them disappeared. And all GM brands were more like companies at their own than just GM brands -similar to VW brands today. But eventually everything come to end esp. if you have someone like Roger Smith as a CEOs. The same will eventually happen to Japanese companies, or they will just sell rebadged vehicles – btw this already is happening more and more offten.

        • 0 avatar
          thattruthguy

          GM started its US companion brands in the booming 20s, not during the depression. Exc for LaSalle, the second brands were killed in 1931 (they kept Pontiac instead of Oakland). In 1941, the LaSalle brand was killed and Cadillac expanded its catalog with cheaper cars.

  • avatar
    Jacob

    If Scion disappears then what are the armchair automotive CEOs going to discuss?


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