A decade ago, Toyota's youth-oriented spinoff brand Scion scored an instant hit with the toaster-esque xB. It made sense not only for kids that wanted an interesting, cheap, reliable, spacious car, but everyone that wanted an interesting cheap, reliable, spacious car. Then they lost the plot, and despite unveiling the new 2016 iA and iM, I'm pretty sure they're still in the weeds.
Scion has always been a marketing exercise, but it used to have the products to back it up. These days, it's mostly about the #brand and the #urban #millennials, and not much else behind the curtain. That's what I learned at last night's New York Auto Show press event, which was generally insufferable.
Quick - what's a way to make tons of cash as a cheap automobile manufacturer? If you said "make a high-value product that has mass appeal", then you probably work for Honda, and you should get back to work. The Fit isn't going to put itself together, now is it?!
If you said "pander to ridiculous stereotypes and treat people like they're infants", then step right up, Scion would like to introduce you to their #brand.
Before the press conference, Scion held an art exhibit, in which it expressed all the impossibly individualistic traits that it wanted in its owners.
It's not a brand, it's a lifestyle, and the car is just an accessory, just like a set of low-top sneakers, a fedora, or an old Rolleiflex camera - all of which has to be spelled out for you and tied into a car because Scion thinks you're an idiot and this is your identity. Scion was now the official car of people who don't give a hot flying turd about cars.
A half-hour into the finger-food fest, I did an inventory of anything in the venue that could be tied to anything automotive in any respect, and came up with a sober coupling of diddly and squat. There was a pointless fashion show on loop projected on an enormous screen, while dissonant dubstep played faintly in the background.
The only part of the room that served as a reminder of the car company's contribution was a logo in a corner of the room, blocked by huge load-bearing beams and a backward-facing bar.
Then the show started, show being the operative term, because instead of presenting a bunch of people in the automotive industry with an automotive product that they could then go home and write about, they were given a 20-minute interpretive dance show featuring no less than four separate acts before any cars were even mentioned.
To add insult to injury, the performances were impossible to record because the room was pitch black and flash photography was not allowed. Dandy. This is the equivalent of you going to order food at McDonald's, and instead of the staff bringing your food out, they turn off the lights, pick up some glowsticks, and do the Macarena for ten minutes.
When you get around to asking them what's going on, they tell you in a disapproving tone "This is art!" This is why people got a bit antsy and bored after the first few minutes, and relied on their phones to stimulate their malnourished brains.
Then, when I was sure that the cars had been mistakenly replaced with an order of wooden pallets in an unfortunate shipping mix-up and they were desperately stalling for time, the cars were revealed, and I almost wish that the dancers came back and uttered a half-hearted "April Fools!"
For those of you that may not remember, last year's Scion iM Concept looked spectacular from every angle, with even the most stone-hearted curmudgeons like myself proclaiming that they'd buy one if it looked remotely like the concept. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the difference between fantasy and reality.
This can only be the product of when Scion, a car company once known for its community appeal and outstanding flair, makes cars for people who couldn't be bothered with car ownership. The car on the left represents a design language replete with aggressive and sculpted lines, and the automobile on the right is a car designed to slam into Walmart shopping carts so hard that the airbags go off.
It's true that most if not all concepts lose something along the way when they go to production, and you're nuts if you thought those bumper blade-things would be on a street car. But still. They didn't even try to keep this one interesting.
The second car at the reveal was the iA, a car so mundane that it's literally a purgatory-gray Mazda 2 with a nonplussed look on its face.
Yesteryear's Scion is the company that originally sponsored insanely fast 1/4-mile track cars, held community barbecues, and provided bandwidth for open forums - a first in the corporate automotive world - not to mention made cars that had an amazing value in the market with a generous sprinkling of quirk.
The Scion of today caters to a marketing firm's concept of the ridiculous stereotypical #millennial who uses the word "Really?" as an argument. At the same time they're trying to take advantage of their hardcore community roots, but it simply can't go both ways. The company's efforts come off as sadly desperate and that's exactly where it stands today - solely relegated to idiotic hashtags made to furrow the brow of the establishment, but in this case, it may be too little, too late.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.