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Discussion Starter · #1 ·

1,276 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Ok guys, here's the full article from the New York Times. It may be a bit long, but in my opinion it's a good read.

2005 Scion tC: Who's Your Daddy? Staid Toyota Gets a Hip Implant

Published: July 25, 2004

SCION is the wild child of the reserved, respectable Toyota family - the tattooed, body-pierced, trend-setting offspring with a homework assignment: bring some fresh faces into the showrooms. On sale in California since June of last year, Scions became available only this summer in the rest of the country.

So far, the best-known Scion (pronounced SIGH-un) has been the quirky xB, generally known as "the boxy one." Its Legoland looks are polarizing, yet love it or hate it, the xB gets noticed. Much to Toyota's surprise, the xB is outselling the more mainstream xA hatchback by 2 to 1.

The nationwide rollout of the Scion brand coincides with the introduction of a third car, the 2005 tC hatchback coupe. Like the other Scions, this $16,465 model plays in the shallow end of the new-car pricing pool; the xA is $13,795 and the xB is $14,195.

In a recent interview, Jim Farley, vice president of Scion, said California had served as a first-year "laboratory" for the brand. Data from AutoPacific, an automotive research company, indicates that the experiment paid off: 76 percent of Scion buyers were first-time Toyota customers.

Though they are hardly expensive, Scions are not being marketed as economy cars - commercials place them in urban settings with a thumping hip-hop backbeat. Mr. Farley said Scion's marketing tactics were neither confrontational nor traditional; instead, buyers can "discover Scion" by themselves, at their own pace.

Scion has the youngest customers of any car company, with an average age of 38. Drivers tend to be younger still, since many parents buy the cars for children. Strong sales among minorities have validated Scion's urban-theme campaign.

Creating a youth-oriented line of cars is a daunting task. Several companies, including Toyota itself, have tried to seduce Generation Y only to be rebuffed like a lounge lizard prowling a college bar. Honda thought it had the youth market covered with its Element - a sort of Swiss Army knife on wheels - but while that boxy car has sold fairly well, it has often gone to boomers who need versatile trucklets to haul petunias and power tools.

Indeed, Honda - which inadvertently created the import car-tuning scene with its inexpensive, durable and easy-to-customize Civic - has begun to lose its appeal with young customizers. So the company plans to introduce a car priced below the Civic, perhaps a variation on its Fit "city car," which has been a big hit in Japan.

Toyota's first attempt to woo youngsters, the Genesis Project, included three vehicles: the dowdy Echo subcompact; the edgy Celica sporty coupe (whose time in the spotlight lasted about as long as William Hung's singing career) and the MR2 Spyder, a roadster that was pricey and, lacking a trunk, impractical. Toyota recently said it was discontinuing the Celica and MR2.

But executives insist that they did their homework with Scion. Jim Press, chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales USA, sees Scion as a bridge to new customers.

"We realize that the success of our company is that we grew up with baby boomers," he said. "A successful company has to reinvent itself and remain relevant to newer generations." Mr. Press stressed that Toyota wanted to avoid a perception of "old people trying to make a young person's car."

Mr. Farley stressed the need for authenticity. "If you're going to be a car company" with youth appeal, he said, "you'd better come out with cars that are refreshing and honest."

Two-thirds of Toyota dealerships have agreed to sell Scions, setting up special areas where potential buyers can relax, examine the vehicles and "customize" them on computers linked to Scion's Web site.

This ease of customization is vital to Scion's credibility with the sport-import car tuners who have had enormous influence on the auto industry (and on youthful trends) in recent years. Neon interior lighting, wake-the-dead stereo systems and stiffer shocks are among the dozens of optional add-ons. Buyers end up with one-of-a-kind cars, and dealers pocket some of the cash that might have gone to aftermarket suppliers.

1,276 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Here's part two of the article:

(Page 2 of 2)

Yet owners are proving to be demanding, and they have not cut the xA or xB any slack. In the latest initial quality survey by J. D. Power & Associates, the upstart brand placed near the bottom of the rankings - an unfamiliar place for Toyota. The company is looking for the tC, a more substantial car in many ways, to pacify these customers.

"The tC is to Scion what the original LS 400 was to Lexus," Mr. Farley said. With its refinement and reasonable price, the LS rewrote the rules for luxury cars. Toyota hopes the tC will attract young buyers who aspire to sporty European cars.

Over all, the styling is a cohesive design that looks solid and expensive. The fenders' strong lines and pronounced wheel openings suggest recent Audis. The headlamps and kink in the rear roof pillar are BMW-esque, and the hood's shape brings to mind either Volvo or Lexus's own IS 300 sport sedan.

The tC that I tested was a classy dark blue with stylish alloy wheels. My hunch that the car's subtle good looks would go unnoticed was proved wrong the first time I parked in my Brooklyn neighborhood. A few tough-looking young men stopped their basketball game to say they thought the car was pretty cool. Mired in Holland Tunnel traffic the next day, a truck driver shouted across the din that the tC looked sharp.

The interior is nicely thought out and well put together, though the expanses of black plastic won't fool you into thinking this is a Bentley. Yet the fit and finish are better than that of many cars costing twice as much.

The nicely sculptured instrument panel has a cover that conceals the radio faceplate - a nice touch for the larcenous city. Silver-face gauges are easy to read, and it's easy to get comfortable with the chunky steering wheel and well-placed pedals.

Whoever designed the dead pedal - a sort of left-side footrest - deserves a raise. Perfectly placed, it is the best I have experienced. The damping of the controls and soft finishes on often-touched surfaces show that a great deal of attention went into getting the interior just right.

My test car's entertaining touches included a shift knob shaped like a microphone, blue neon interior lighting and illuminated cup holders. My partner and I, both in our mid-20's, bought a bottle of water to watch it mysteriously glow. (No, we don't get out much.) And while the neon illumination borders on tacky, it proved convenient when we dropped toll money on the floor at night.

The standard twin sunroofs prompted one complaint. Although the glass panels give the cabin an airy feel, the blinds covering them are thin, and the material looks like the pull shades in a dorm room.

Other quibbles include an optional subwoofer that eats up a large amount of the trunk (though it improves the audio) and air-conditioning that barely kept up with the 90-degree heat during a weekend drive.

During this trip I discovered how roomy the tC can be. Things can get awfully cozy when four people travel in an economy coupe, but the tC had room to spare and cubbies to store the detritus of modern life.

Loosely based on the front-drive Toyota Avensis sedan sold overseas, the tC's European breeding shines through. The car proved adept on highways and city streets. The steering is communicative, growing heavier at highway speeds.

Engine power is linear; the 160 horsepower was not overwhelming, but quite capable. The 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine even makes a nice little growl. (A hot supercharged version is also planned.)

The precise shift action of the five-speed manual, and the clutch's smooth operation, might sway some Gen Y-ers to shift for themselves. (A four-speed automatic is optional.) The mileage rating with the manual is 22 m.p.g. in town and 29 on the highway.

Down the road, Scion plans to keep its lineup fresh by replacing vehicles with entirely new models, rather than refining the same idea year after year. The biggest challenge will be maintaining the brand's underground appeal if 2005 sales reach Toyota's projection of 100,000 plus.

The xB and xA proved that Scion could think outside the box, even inside a box. The tC takes the idea a step further in refinement and style while adding more driving pleasure to the equation. Scion might be a wild child, but the tC proves that the brand is keeping up its grades.

INSIDE TRACK: Two's a pair, three's a posse.
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