I Bought a Scion Once

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

Sir, I don’t think you understand how our pricing model works.”

It was the winter of 2004, and a sad-sack of a salesman sat at the desk across from Mrs. Bark and me at a morbidly depressing Toyota-Scion dealership near Dayton, Ohio. My dear wife was the less-than-proud owner of a 2001 Hyundai Elantra that had been the very first car she’d ever purchased new. That Elantra came with war wounds; it had been hit in the rear door a week after she bought it, and the car was so cheap that the small dent it caused wasn’t worth fixing.

We had recently become upwardly mobile, thanks to a promotion I got at work, so I wanted to buy her something nicer; something sporty, but not actually sporty. She was a graduate music student, and all of her friends drove shitboxes from the ’90s. I wanted them to know that her husband was somebody, not just another poor grad student. Alas, youthful pride.

She narrowed down her choices to a new Hyundai Tiburon V-6 and a Scion tC, before she ultimately decided her Elantra experience was negative enough to steer her away from the K-brand. Plus, as a woman in her mid-20s, she was attracted to the brand of Scion. It was supposed to be all about being youthful, brash, and bold — everything that her Elantra wasn’t.

It was because of this that we ended up sitting opposite this Dockers-and-Bass wearing salesman, who wrote up his foursquare in the hopes that I wouldn’t notice that he was giving us about two grand under KBB Fair for our car.

“I’m sorry, you need to give us more for our car than that,” I explained. “I know it has a small ding, but it’s been meticulously maintained, and it has low miles.”

“We don’t negotiate, sir. Scion has a one-price strategy. It’s a low-stress buying experience.” His face was not portraying the low-stress experience, as such.

“Well, then,” I said, momentarily channeling the genetic rage of all Baruth men for the last century, “I think we’ll go find a higher-stress environment where people actually want to sell cars.”

We ended up at Kings Toyota-Scion on the north end of Cincinnati, where a gentle giant named Andre helped us pick out my wife’s new, ice blue tC. They were happy to get us out of the Elantra even-up, which I declared to be a victory.

We added damn near everything in the Scion catalog to the tC: pedestal spoiler, neon interior lighting, cargo nets, shiny metal pedals, sporty shift knob. It was like shopping from a trendy catalog. Even with all the add-ons, and a shorter payment term, it still didn’t cost us much more per month to buy it (yes, I was a payment buyer when I was 26) because of the difference between Hyundai Motor Finance Corporation’s “First-Time Buyer” program APR of 11.25 percent for 72 months and Toyota’s TIER 1+ credit program of 1.9 over 60.

“I can’t believe it,” said Andre as he reviewed Mrs. Bark’s credit report. “She has no bad credit. Like, none.” Apparently, the typical Scion buyer didn’t have a 780 beacon score.

At that point, I had no reason to suspect that Scion wouldn’t be a smash hit. I had no sporting pretenses then, so I lusted after an xB for myself. The buying experience was wonderful, the cars were hip and cool. What could possibly go wrong?

We took delivery of our tC on that snowy evening, and I brought it back a month later to have all the goodies installed. It was a wonderful car, in every respect. Mrs. Bark loved it enough to get her first vanity plate — SCI BLUE (get it?) — and her friends were as jealous of it as I’d hoped they would be. She joined Scion forums. She got a little sticker for the rear windshield that had a tC outline with a ponytail-wearing girl in the driver’s seat that said “Girl Racer.”

It wasn’t fast, but it was faster than anything she had ever owned up until that point of her life. The 140-treadwear Bridgestones were grippy enough to make the occasional autocross a blast. The stereo boomed the hell out of some Big Daddy Kane, and the hatch was large enough for all the musical equipment you could ever need to put in it. In the three years we owned it, it never had a single mechanical issue.

Unfortunately, once my dear son arrived in the beginning of 2008, putting a rear-facing car seat in the tC proved to be a hassle. And, as most parents do, we became convinced that we needed a CUV for our growing family. Goodbye, tC. Hello, CX-7. And with it, a certain sadness that a part of our life had ended, but a certain joy that a new part was beginning.

Why did Scion fail? I’m sure you’ll read endless industry insiders today who will be only too happy to speculate as to why. Bad marketing, tone-deaf product planning, et cetera, et cetera.

I can only tell you that, for me, Scion succeeded.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • AK AK on Feb 03, 2016

    My cousin bought a TC right when they came out. I was beyond jealous at the time. We were 19. He then went on to buy some prototype turbo kit for it which he and a friend of mine installed one night in his tiny town home garage. Needless to say the prototype turbo wasn't ideal and he sold the car not long after. That said, I still have a good memory of the car and to this day won't hesitate to recommend a used tC to someone in need of cheap, reliable transportation. That's a lot more than I can say about most cars.

  • Dividebytube Dividebytube on Feb 04, 2016

    I just bought a used MY08 Xb with only 47k mikes on the clock. It was obviously a grandma car - full dealership records, automatic, and perfect interior/exterior. It's pretty bland - not enough power to be fast, but not really slow either. Good passenger room though and some small hauling space for the stuff I need to work on my house. So yeah, it was a compromise but not a bad one.

    • See 2 previous
    • Scottcom36 Scottcom36 on Feb 04, 2016

      @Russycle "You’d think Toyota could figure out a way to market [Xb's] as an alternative to the CUV herd, but apparently not." Especially since they're going to need an answer to the HR-V right off.

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