My friend Jim fits the Scion customer profile, except in one key area. Will that doom Toyota's new youth-oriented division?
By most estimates, 65 million young people will turn 16 during the next 10 years — a new baby boom. Every full-line auto maker wants to lure them to its brand and eventually get them to trade up to more profitable models.
Toyota was one of the most successful in doing this with the parents of this new group, today's current Boomers. Now it is using its new Scion brand to attract and learn from young trendsetters so it can repeat the process.
So far it's going great, and Scion sales are ahead of expectations. But Scion and some others are pursuing the youth market in such a myopic fashion it could end up backfiring.
Jim is a cool guy, but no trendsetter. He isn't well known in the hip-hop community. He hasn't been involved in any public brawls at the Vibe Awards. His mother hasn't sued him for slander after he dissed her in a song.
Nevertheless, he does have a lifestyle many would envy.
He's financially secure. He does what he wants, pretty much when he wants to do it. He likes the idea of being able to just pack up some stuff, grab his girlfriend and head to Florida when he feels like it. And he wants a vehicle that will allow him to do that economically and comfortably.
That makes Jim a big Scion fan. He didn't see ads in some “lad” magazine, or spy the cars at some hip venue. He discovered Scion purely by accident. One of his part-time jobs includes ferrying around Toyotas for various dealerships. He was impressed with the boxy Scion xB and the tC coupe.
But here's where Jim becomes the angel of death for Scion's marketing strategy: He's no teenage slacker, trust-fund baby or budding entrepreneur. Jim is a retired school principal.
The way Scion is marketing its products today, I could almost imagine the dealer refusing to take his money.
Honda's funky Element also is aimed at the youth market. It was considered a debacle when it turned out the cars are more popular with old women who dye their hair blue than young women who dye their hair purple.
Ever since Chrysler first tried to appeal to women consumers in the 1950s by offering pink cars, auto makers have bungled niche marketing efforts by stereotyping and eventually offending the consumers they are trying to attract, whether it's Generation X or pickup truck buyers.
No marketing strategy should be so exclusionary that a company is embarrassed if the “wrong” consumers buy its products. Not in the car business. Toyota has shown its engineers and designers can think outside the box. It's time its marketers did the same.
A couple of years from now, after the novelty wears off, Scion likely will need a few buyers like my friend Jim.
Drew Winter is editor of Ward's AutoWorld.