Hammer Time: Is Scion The New Geo?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time is scion the new geo

Imagine if you will.

The world’s largest and most consistently successful automaker is in deep trouble. Not because of profits, but because of products.

They build a small car… and a small army of overseas competitors blow it away.

They build a bigger vehicle, and another, and yet another. They build so many models with so many names and variations that they wind up cannibalizing their own products. Every time this happens, they lose sales and more alarmingly, their youngest customers no longer see their products as fashionable.

Every year it gets worse. Then the corporate mothership, which has cost cut their way into the rear view mirror of most of their future customers, comes up with a brilliant marketing idea.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em — at least for right now.

That was the General Motors of the 1980s. After a mind numbing streak of marketplace losers (Chevette, Sprint, Citation, Omega, T1000, Skyhawk, Cimmaron, Sunbird), GM, under the ever watchful accounting driven gazes of its CEO, Roger Smith, decided that it was time to let imports fight imports. This fight would take place inside Chevy dealerships which were foolishly asked to market a new sub-brand that would compete with higher margin products which already represented the ‘real’ GM metal.

The new brand — Geo — was launched with a mandatory display area (usually in some God forsaken corner of the showroom) for those dealerships that wanted to carry a brand which was all about “Getting to know you.”

First they offered the Geo Prizm. This had been a Toyota in drag which had been marketed as a Chevy Nova during its pre-Geo run. Besides the annual humiliation of having GM’s highest quality plant and product be driven by Toyota know-how, the Nova had also been a sales flop despite the world-class Toyota underpinnings.

Prices were high, dealer margins were minimal, and the commercials? Like an aspiring Yuppie on speed.

The Prizm was followed by the Geo Tracker, which was a Suzuki Sidekick emblazoned with a new Geo logo that, strangely enough, had a bow-tie on the steering wheel — just in case the customers were wondering if it was a real American car, which it wasn’t.

The Geo Metro was next. Although this would turn out to be among the most popular models for gas sippers, tree huggers, rental car companies, and unrepentatnt cheapskates frugal zealots, it didn’t have as strong of a retail presence as many of today’s auto enthusiasts would imagine. The car was flimsy with a new car price to boot, and the acceleration with an automatic was just plain atrocious.

GM needed something, really anything, that would stand out. So what did they do?

They created a joint venture on a sporty coupe — with a company that had zero success in selling sporty coupes.

Sound familiar? It should for those who have followed the recent Scion FR-S. In GM’s case, the Isuzu Impulse, which even came with a Lotus tuned suspension to emphasize handling, was re-homologated into a Geo Storm.

It lasted one generation. The Prizm would last two generations as a Geo, and then would get pulverized into a fine red mist once GM pulled the plug and tried to make it a Chevy. The same with the Metro and the Tracker.

Come to think of it, nobody is quite sure what happened to the Tracker. But rumor has it that the model got eaten by a horde of obese cannibals disguised as Chevy Blazers.

This brings us to the Geo of 2015: Scion.

Like Geo, Scion was initially marketed to the young and youthful in a way that would make middle-aged and older people feel good about their ‘youthful’ purchase. Too bad the advertising was a cacophony of fake special effects and hip-hop fashionistas who apparently were told to display themselves instead of the car.

You think I’m kidding? Well this time, I’m being brutally blunt. On a press launch for the Lexus CT200h back in 2009, the marketing head for that project had also been in charge of launching the Scion brand in the United States. When I asked him why the CT200h didn’t launch as a Scion I was told, “Scion was never marketed as a brand for young people. It was intended to attract people at a specific price range.”

I immediately thought, “Well, okay. I never knew buyers in the $15,000 to $18,000 price hung around college campuses and went to death metal concerts.”

And that to me is the core part of Scion’s failure as a brand — it’s a cannibal. All cannibal sub-brands die in the car business because the core brand is too important to be seriously challenged. As sure as old four-door Geo Metros got recycled into Chinese washing machines, Scion became a poor excuse for Toyota not better supporting their Y2K-era Corolla against the compacts, and last generation Celicas against the sports coupes.

After 10 years of Toyota customers getting to know a slew of Scions, one thing is clear.

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2 of 113 comments
  • Mchan1 Mchan1 on Aug 26, 2015

    Basically... Yes! Scion is a stripped down/decontented car as there's really no options available. I think it's targeted to the Millenials/youngsters. Toyota should save its money/resources and fold Scion back into the Toyota brand and just upgrade the Corollas/Camries with newer technology and designs while lowering the prices. It can then try marketing itself to the younger or newer buyers with an emphasis on newer technology but would have to concentrate on quality control (which it's losing due to its expansion) that's related to its Toyota brand. Heck, make one model from each lineup "sporty" like the Camry SE, but with more emphasis on sport, not just an appearance option package.

  • DweezilSFV DweezilSFV on Jan 12, 2016

    What? No mention of the Geo Spectrum ? Great question, Mr. Lang, though I am late to reading this. Wasn't the whole point of Scion to offer basic cars that could be dealer accessorized to an individual's taste and a no haggle pricing scheme, like Saturn? It seems they lost the plot long ago.Keeping it going is just more wasted effort as a Scion would sell much better as a properly badged Toyota.

  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!
  • Sgeffe As was stated in another comment, the FAA nominee went down in flames. But the NTSB chairwoman certainly didn’t, and she’s certainly not qualified either!Lots of this kind of stuff going on both sides of the aisle—Ben Carson would have arguably made a better Surgeon General than HUD Secretary under Trump, for example.
  • Art Vandelay Interesting, the Polestar 2 I had as a rental utilized Android Automotive which is what GM said it is going to exclusively, yet it still offers Apple CarPlay according to this. Wonder if GM will do the same.
  • Stuart de Baker EVs just aren't ready for prime time for those with a single car and who take road trips. Being able to charge as soon as you arrive at a charging station, and even the chargers working on your car is a crapshoot. In the former case, you could have to wait for nearly an hour while someone else is charging.I also don't find EVs particularly fun to drive (I've driven a Tesla Model S and an Ionic 5.) I LOVE driving my '08 Civic (stick). I love the handling, the feel and responsiveness of the engine, the precise steering (the Michelin Pilot Ultra Sport tires help, but even with the snows on, the car is a joy). I have 152k on the clock, and hopefully another 25 years or so of driving (I was born early in the Eisenhower Administration and I have exceptionally healthy habits), and I'm going to try to keep the Civic for the duration.My Civic causes a less global warming emissions than some of these humongous battery operated trucks.
  • FreedMike They should throw in a Lordstown pickup with every purchase. Make it the “vapor twofer.”