By on November 16, 2015

2015 Toyota C-HR concept

We haven’t held back our critique of Toyota’s handling of its Scion sub-brand.

Though Scion held such promise a decade ago, replacing the hot-selling first-generation xB with a mostly ignored, overweight, second-generation xB was a ticket to failure. Allowing the once-popular tC to linger mostly unchanged and mostly unathletic for more than a decade is akin to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. A flash in the pan sports car, the FR-S, wasn’t – couldn’t be – the answer to the brand’s troubles.

Signs of life are once again appearing at Scion, however, and not from the most expected places.

Historically speaking, Scion made a name for itself with unconventional machinery. Suddenly, over the last two months, the brand’s two most popular vehicles are a subcompact sedan and a thoroughly conventional, Corolla-related hatchback.

2016 Scion iA red

As a result, Scion’s year-over-year U.S. sales growth in October 2015 trailed only Land Rover, which nearly doubled its October volume, and Volvo, which achieved its best XC90 sales month since December 2007. Scion sales jumped 50 percent in October, a gain of 2,088 sales for a brand which only sells cars in a market which generated a modest four-percent car sales improvement.

Now, we expect to see Scion launch a new vehicle at the Los Angeles auto show. Will the C-HR crossover finally be an unconventional Scion answer to the SUV/CUV juggernaut gripping the auto industry?

Setting aside a potential launch, consider the backdrop of Scion’s recent surge. Annual U.S. volume for the brand declined from a peak of 173,000 units in 2006 to fewer than 50,000 in 2010 and 2011 before spiking in 2012 — to less than half the 2006 total — before falling again in 2013 and 2014. Sales through the first eight months of 2015, before two recent launches, were down 22 percent in a market which had climbed four percent. Only Smart, which offers just one car and is in the midst of transitioning between generations, had suffered a more dramatic sales slowdown.

In September of this year, however, Scion was the second-fastest-growing auto brand in America on year-over-year percentage terms. And though the brand’s year-to-date tally remains 10 percent lower in 2015 than it was during the first ten months of 2014, Scion could end 2015 with slightly greater volume than last year if the pace from the last two months holds.

The most recent improvement, October’s 50-percent uptick, occurred despite a combined 31-percent decline from Scion’s five established models — three of which have been formally discontinued. In other words, Scion basically produced its huge October increase with a new lineup, a sudden overhaul that reflects a whole new direction for the brand. Subtract the trio of departing models from the equation – xD, xB, iQ – and Scion’s going-forward lineup actually produced a collective 123-percent year-over-year improvement.

Granted, that’s not a fair year-over-year comparison. Scion did sell more than 1,000 copies of the xB, xD, and iQ in October; that fact can’t be changed. But the fact the brand new Scions instantly took over and displayed an ability to attract a reasonable number of consumers suggests that Scion does, in fact, possess a measure of staying power.

A decade ago, it would have been laughable to think that Scion would one day need to be rescued by a Mazda2-based sedan that even Mazda doesn’t sell in the United States. But the iA is now Scion’s top-selling model, both in September and in October. Indeed, nearly one-third of all Scions sold in October were iA sedans, and the iA outsold the FR-S and tC combined. (The tC is Scion’s top-selling model year-to-date.)

Assisting in the rejuvenation of Scion is the compact iM hatch, sales of which increased from 1,353 units in September to 1,408 in October.

2016 Scion iM red

These aren’t big numbers. While the iA outsold the Toyota Yaris by nearly four-to-one last month, the iA ranked fifth in the segment and owned just six percent of the subcompact category in October. Among conventional compact cars, the iM was roundly outsold by virtually all potential competitors, sedan and hatchbacks alike, except the Mitsubishi Lancer.

This Toyota attempt to breathe life back into Scion is only just beginning. The iA and iM could climb higher. Yet Scion has fallen so far that now, even if a production C-HR is little more than a moderately popular subcompact crossover, total Scion volume could nearly double with the addition of just one model.

Only three-tenths of one percent of the new vehicles sold in America in the first ten months of 2015 were Scions. Scion won’t become the next Subaru, nor does Toyota need it to be. But there are very few lingering signs that suggest Scion will shortly need to be extinguished.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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10 Comments on “Scion Rising – If iA and iM Help, Imagine What C-HR Could Do...”


  • avatar
    dwford

    That the iA outsold the Yaris so dramatically, yet was still a slow seller in the market shows how badly the Yaris is getting beaten in the market The iA is just providing a decent subcompact entry for the Toyota showroom that they didn’t have before. Scion is reminding me of Saturn. Saturn was badly mismanaged by GM, and managed to go from a winning lineup to a losing assemblage of leftovers from other brands within GM. Same is now true of Scion.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      I agree on both points 100%.

      Out selling the terrible Yaris is no big accomplishment. Its very telling that a company once known for its excellent small cars cant even be bothered to produce a decent subcompact anymore, so they let Mazda do it for them. Makes me long for the Corolla-Tercel lol.

      Scion = Saturn is just too funny, but very true. The S-series Saturns were compeditive and sold very well, as did the first xB. Then things got worse and worse, until by the time the Sky and Outlook came along, it was too late. The terrible ION, the expensive Opel-based cars, and the awful Relay had already done too much damage. I kinda liked the Astra, though. Its a shame the Kappa cars didnt do better, I had hope when they came out.

      I recently found a 2001 LW200 5spd (midsize Saturn wagon), and I thought about getting it and putting the Opel Vectra B front clip on it (far better looking IMO). But, as I studied the L, I found that engine failure (2.2L I-4) is quite common, so probably not worth it. I just sorta wanted it for the novelty of it. Im not a wagon kinda guy, but a unique one with a manual trans mightve kept my attention for a little while at least. Lol

      • 0 avatar
        dwford

        It’s amazing to see how much today’s Toyota is like old GM. Besides buying subcompacts from a competitor, which GM did for the Geo line, the Chevy Nova, the Pontiac Matrix and Lemons, etc, Toyota pulled a full GM with the ugly redesign of the Camry complete with fake rear window, just like 1989 update of the Buick Century. Toyota has also let the Tacoma platform go unchanged for 10 years before giving it a modest update this year, and gave the Tundra only a modest update after 7 years on the market. All the while they are using engines they designed many years ago. Will the Toyota 3.5 V6 turn into the trusty but ancient GM 3.8?

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The S-series was never truly competitive, by the time it finally made it to market the target vehicles were at least one generation removed from the ones they had used for bench marks. It quickly went down hill from there as there just was no money to update having spent way too much on development, new plant and sales channel, that was not being amortized as quickly as had been expected.

    • 0 avatar
      eggsalad

      I looked at the Yaris, because I’d rather have a hatch.

      Then I discovered that the current Yaris is made in France.

      Can’t I have a Citroen instead, if I want a French car?

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Scion should be a no-brainer: Toyota’s rock-solid platforms wrapped in quirky, non-vanilla packaging. But it can’t happen by osmosis; if you don’t market and you let a dead fish like the xB languish for 7 years, well, you get today’s Scion. Shouldn’t be that hard to turn around if their willing to spend a little money.

  • avatar
    SlowMyke

    When Mr. De Nysschen is done screwing around with Cadillac, can someone please point him over to scion? I think his naming scheme is actually preferable to this nonsense.

  • avatar
    neit_jnf

    How are the sales being measured? Continental USA only? The iA is sold as the new Yaris in PR (USA territory)

  • avatar
    djsyndrome

    Bring the S-FR and all will be forgiven.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    No!

    I can’t be the only one who looks at that iM and sees a Fit that got its nose smacked with a rolled-up newspaper!

    (I’d like to see them try that on the Littlest Angry Car!)


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