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Scion Studies Adding Small Pickup for Youthful Buyers

Done right, a true compact truck that is more recreation vehicle than utility hauler could hold appeal to Scion’s core audience of young, edgy, non-traditional consumers, the brand’s top official says.

DETROIT – Toyota Motor Corp’s Scion youth brand is studying whether a compact pickup truck would fit the niche brand’s all-car lineup, Scion General Manager Jack Hollis tells Ward’s.

Trucks are “not off the table,” Hollis says in an interview at the 2010 North American International Auto Show here. “If I said, ‘off the table,’ I’d like to take that back.

“Toyota has such a strong heritage of doing a very good job with youth and with trucks, when you look at (the Toyota) Tacoma – I’m not trying to be too cocky, but we pretty much have owned that segment for a long time. We have to find a niche. I think there is room for it.”

Scion and Toyota officials previously have said they wanted to stay away from light trucks, fearing they were too reminiscent of what younger buyers’ parents drive.

But Hollis says done right, a true compact truck that is more recreation vehicle than utility hauler could hold appeal to Scion’s core audience of youthful, edgy, non-traditional consumers.

The compact pickup of today is much bigger than its predecessors, matching the capability and size of fullsize pickup trucks. Building a true compact pickup “is exactly where it is,” he says.

Making compact cars even more compact and adding value is what Scion does, Hollis adds. “How can we do that with truck? If you do that with truck, we certainly have to be open to it.”

Ironically, a possible barrier is the Tacoma.

The compact-pickup segment leader smoked the nearest competition by a sizable volume in 2009, selling 111,824 units, while the one-time leading Ford Ranger sold 55,600.

The Tacoma has an overwhelmingly young-male customer base, Hollis notes. “We would (want) to add to our family,” he says, and not infringe on the Tacoma’s market positioning.

Scion displayed a concept truck at last year’s Specialty Equipment Marketers Assn. show in Las Vegas that was personalized and accessorized. The Brandon Leung xB truck was a roof-less version of the xB cross/utility vehicle with a bright green paint job and styling reminiscent of pickups from the 1940s and 1950s.

“It’s a really unique truck, but it’s a concept one of our owners decided to create for himself,” Hollis says

Toyota also showed a truck-like concept at the 2008 New York auto show, the Hako. However, it was more reminiscent of an xB, with no open bed.

Hollis emphasizes a pickup is only one idea being studied for Scion, and there currently are no concrete plans to introduce such a product.

While a truck may still be pipe dream, Scion has new product launching soon that should help it recover some volume after several recent lean years.

Scion sales in the U.S. plummeted 49.1% in 2009 to 57,961, one of the steepest drops of any brand last year, Ward’s data shows.

The youth brand is debuting a replacement model for its lineup at this year’s New York auto show, widely expected to be the next-generation tC sport coupe.

A fourth Scion model is due later this year and is reported to be the long-rumored iQ subcompact, which Toyota sells under its own brand in Europe.

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