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New make Scion launches locally, emphasizes the unconventional

November 22, 2010
Toyota intends to rewrite the ABCs of automotive marketing when it introduces its new Scion brand to Chicago consumers this month. Make that the xA, xB and tC of automotive marketing. Scion's entry in the Midwest marks the final phase of a national rollout that began last June in California. Launched with the xA and xB models, Scion recently added the tC. The brand's target is consumers dubbed Generation Y, born beginning in 1978. The group bought 5 percent of all light vehicles sold in 2001, but that figure is expected to grow to 25 percent in 2010 and 40 percent in 2020. "They've already moved through beverages and apparel. Now they're moving to cars and homes," Scion Vice President Jim Farley said recently in talks with the Midwest Automotive Media Association. Scion relies on unconventional advertising and word of mouth to reach the trend setters of Generation Y. And there are a lot of them to reach, Farley said. Sociologists have labeled the group as information-rich, time-poor and technology-savvy. They trust the word of a friend over advertising messages. To connect, Farley said Scion might offer impromptu test drives at music store parking lots. A strategy, said Farley: Equip the vehicle with a small camera for the driver to record his impressions, then allow him to upload the recording onto the Internet, where friends can see it. After one sales year, Scion's numbers crunchers developed the following profile of its customers: 49 percent are age 35 or younger, 75 percent are new to the Toyota family, and 57 percent are male. The final stat is noteworthy because most small cars in the United States are purchased by women. Farley said all Scions are built to order. Buyers can choose about 40 accessories, and Scion owners have gathered to marvel at how other units are equipped. A first-ever Scion owners event on Jan.1 in California attracted 435 Scion drivers, one from as far as Florida. "We offered them water, that's all. They came to exchange stories about how they personalized their cars. Some had Lamborghini doors, others had a DVD player in every headrest," Farley said. Scion showrooms likewise are distinct, luring buyers with 50-inch plasma televisions, Internet kiosks and consultation areas. "The list of the Top 10 Scion dealers in each region looks nothing like the list of the Top 10 Toyota dealers," said Farley. All 28 Toyota dealers in the CATA market also sell Scion. The xA starts at $12,480, the xB at $13,680, and the tC at $15,950. "The dealer is free to set the price," Farley said, "but he must set it at the same price for everyone. It really challenges the dealer to set a transaction price. "Customers love it, and salespeople love it because they appear more credible. They lose credibility when they keep returning with a different price. The 'pure price' solution saves two hours in the transaction."