QotW: How will Scion be remembered in 25 years?

06_Scion FRS 86

The demise of Scion last week caught many, including us, by surprise. Though the Toyota offshoot lasted only 13 years, it left a strong mark on the automotive community. Be clear, we are talking about the automotive community, not necessarily the automotive industry. That’s because Scion was the only Japanese brand that really encouraged us to tune, modify and otherwise personalize our rides. The scene is quite different in Japan, of course, where you can walk into any Toyota dealer and be offered a raft of in-house tuning parts for everything from a Prius to a Hiace. Scion’s departure leaves the question of how it will be remembered when it’s time for them to join the 25 Year Club — An unexpected experiment? Toyota’s goth phase? A Millennial Datsun?

How will Scion be remembered in 25 years?

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “How do you feel about auction prices affecting JNCs?” 

1088_Toyota 2000GT

Well this certainly was a polarizing topic. There were those, like goodshow_aa, who seeing money as the motivation for buying cars. Others, like Tom Westmacott, put a more positive spin on it, saying that higher values will result in fewer cars getting junked. Yuri came down on both sides, glad about the newfound care given to the cars that remain, but pained to see them hoarded and unused due to value.

Several of you were fairly zen about the whole thing, like when Ant said “that’s just life, isn’t it?” or Scotty G‘s proclamation that “What a car is worth has zero interest to me, I like what I like no matter what it’s worth.” No salsa came in with wake up call, reminding us aside from a few cars that were already expensive anyway, most are still affordable by the working man.

However, our favorite comment this week in a sea of many came from xs10shl:

As a collector of Japanese cars, I sometimes get asked what I think about price run-ups. My answer is always the same – buy what you like and what you want to keep, and price-movement will largely be irrelevant in the long term. I’ll now add this little corollary – if you think it’s suddenly becoming expensive due to recent auction sales, you might find that if you wait a little while, it’ll be cheap again! I’ll explain:

Those who have been watching the auction market lately may have noticed that prices for some of the rarest Japanese models have softened considerably as of late, and in fact, now frequently sell at auction at prices far below what they were worth prior to the auction hoopla. The global market for top Japanese collectibles remains razor-thin, so much so that the current over-supply of cars available for sale has been met with a noticeable reduction in sales prices.

What has happened to some of the Japanese cars is not atypical, and follows a tried-and-true pattern: an infrequently-publicly-traded vehicle makes it’s way into a premier auction, and it does astonishingly well, because a handful of collectors incorrectly equate “infrequently seen” with “infrequently for sale”. Predictably, the price for the particular available example suddenly “doubles”. This sale result in-turn catches the attention of many long-time owners and short-time flippers alike, with predictable consequences – where there previously were few or no examples seen for sale, there are suddenly several examples available in very public sales. Hence the oft-used phrase, which we hear all the time in auction circles: “Flavor of the Month”.

Over the next few sales, the market stabilizes, and prices fall as demand is served. However, cars continue to become available for sale, as eager owners and short-time-sellers alike want to participate and “cash-in” on the current hoopla. These late-comers will be disappointed, as there are no longer any buyers willing to pay “double” price for the cars. In fact, the opposite tends to happen, and prices fall below traditional private-sale numbers.

This drop in sales price is exactly what has happened to the 2000GT, Z432, and Cosmo in the marketplace. This phenomenon is not limited to Japanese cars- we’ve seen Amphicars, Boss 429 Mustangs, and a host of other cars follow the same pattern over the years. About 40 Porsche 911s were for sale this weekend, up from 3-4 a few years ago – what do you expect that will do to the market?

A similar fate will fall on the R32, based on this latest auction result. I’ll venture to say that we will undoubtedly see several R32s for sale at auction in the coming years, and with few price exceptions for truly great examples, the price of each subsequent sale failing to reach the level of the sale before, until the market stabilizes at or below pre-auction levels.

Setting prices aside for the moment – the silver lining in all of this is the fact that many examples of Japanese cars are now truly being accepted and praised for their engineering and design by outlets who previously shunned them just because they were “Japanese”. I feel this change in attitude is a healthy development, as it will help cross-pollinate the Japanese car hobby with other enthusiast marques, and subsequently offer more opportunities for us to to enjoy, use, share – and yes, buy and sell – our favorite cars.

In conclusion, my advice to sellers is this – if you have a really great example of an “infrequently seen” car you want to sell at auction, just make sure you get to the auction with your car first. Given the right conditions, you might get a pop. My advice to buyers is the opposite – if you are hunting for a great R32, for example, wait a year or two for the early hoopla to die down – prices will more than likely fall to at-or-below pre-hoopla prices.

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18 Responses to QotW: How will Scion be remembered in 25 years?

  1. Scotty G says:

    I never really thought about the fact that Scion encouraged owners to modify their vehicles, how did I miss that observation?! Not a good sign.. I wanted the xB RS 1.0 more than I wanted food for quite a while. Sadly, though, the original xB was the only Scion that I ever wanted, once it was redesigned (like everything else is, to be bigger, fatter, wider, more plush, etc.) the dream was over; for me at least. Maybe that was the beginning of the end of Scion, when they went from being unique, cool, and funky to mainstream, big, and clunky?

    • Mind Synthetic says:

      I thing all manufacturers have this problem now, all cars will get bigger and fatter due to regulations and ped pro safety. that is why the newest car i own is from 04

      • Scotty G says:

        I think that it’s somewhat of a misnomer to cast all of the blame for vehicles getting bigger on the evil government. But, I know what you’re talking about, some regulations have caused some vehicles to become distant relatives to what they once were; tight, taught, lean, mean machines. Companies – car, drug, steel, makeup, etc. – will never, ever do the right thing on their own without some prodding in that general direction. Now, to define “the right thing”.. (Pandora’s Box)

    • Ant says:

      It’s a pity the brand lost momentum as quickly as it did. The xB’s initial success was proof that you could sell something quirky and still be successful – ultimately, because there’s a small sub-section of the market that doesn’t want to buy “normal” cars.

      The success of the Juke for Nissan is a perfect example of this. Imagine the success Scion could have been if it had jumped on the compact crossover bandwagon as early as Nissan, with something fun and distinctive. It seems ludicrous that only a full 13 years after the brand started, it was considering a proper crossover – the C-HR concept, which will now presumably become a Toyota.

      • Scotty G says:

        Very true, for a company as dominating, powerful, and rich as Toyota, Scion could have become the boutique brand, even as a loss-leader it really could have been a test bed for new, innovative engineering, design, and even sales, like Saturn did for GM. It’s a shame, almost a crying shame, indeed. When I started to see folks as old as my mom buying and driving Scions I knew that somehow, someway, their marketing message got lost in translation, along with a few hundred marketing jobs, most likely.

        I never understood why Scion didn’t offer any AWD vehicles. The xA in AWD would have been killer, not to mention the xB. A huge lost opportunity there it seems, but to second-guess a company like Toyota is like second-guessing the weather; it’s an all-powerful, all-knowing entity, or so it seems. A bit of Monday morning quarterbacking there.. perfect for the day after the Super Bowl!

        • Ant says:

          The daft thing about not having an AWD option for both the xA and xB is that I’m fairly sure both were offered with AWD in Japan. Unless there was a big problem re-engineering it for LHD from RHD, it surely wouldn’t have cost much extra to throw a few AWD ones on the boat for those who wanted them.

        • Randy says:

          Interesting that you mention Saturn… Cool when they first came out, with the plastic body panels, etc.; the un-GM, if you will.

          As they became more GM, their popularity faded, ’til we got the Saturn of today – none.

          I know, they’re still in Europe as Opels, but stateside, nada (except for the whichever model it is rebadged as a Buick).

        • Paul says:

          Their marketing message didn’t get lost in translation, it’s just that Scions were cheaper than buying a Toyota, and older drivers recognized them as a great value. Most older adults can’t afford or aren’t interested in buying a pricey full-feature vehicle.

          I test drove a tC when they were first introduced. They were so popular that buyers had to wait for their car to be delivered. I remember thinking how great a value the tC was at $16.5k, especially for a sporty car with a panoramic roof (newer feature at the time) and sunroof / AC included that had Toyota reliability. It was a very nice econocar.


  2. Ant says:

    As someone who lives outside the US, Scion will be nothing more than a footnote in automotive history.

    The brand was, in retrospect, only momentarily significant – little different from other short-term Japanese brands like the numerous examples concocted in the 1990s – Autozam, Eunos, WiLL etc.

    And unlike those companies, most of what Scion sold wasn’t truly unique. The tC was the only purpose-built Scion I believe – it’s perhaps notable that it was the best-selling.

    People will remember the brand given another 25 years, but I’d be surprised if the cars are held in any higher reverence than the Toyotas they’ve now become. Particularly when it comes to cars like the FR-S, which most people seem to wish was branded a Toyota anyway.

    An interesting experiment, but ultimately one whose potential was wasted after the initial momentum of the first-gen xB.

  3. cesariojpn says:

    How not to run a car company.

    Seriously, the entire brand was pretty much catered to youth yet not taking into account the whole picture. The first gen xB is proof of this; when ELDERLY folks were snapping up the cars (and other cube-ish small cars), something is wrong with tha model.

    Another point was when the whole Tuner Culture was going into full swing when Scion was at it’s zenith, they wasted a perfect opportunity to bring a RWD coupe to the table. They released the tC, a bloated mess of a wimpy car.

    • jaehaerys48 says:

      The problem with Scion is that it seems to have had no real influence on Toyota’s decision making. Scion was created to sell preexisting foreign-model Toyota’s to young Americans. Toyota didn’t care enough about the effort to actually create entirely new vehicles for Americans.

      The tC is the closest Scion came to an original car, but it was still based on the FWD Avensis platform. Toyota wasn’t going to allocate the resources to develop a RWD coupe just for the Scion brand. We did eventually get the FR-S, yes, but that’s because Toyota decided later that an AE86 successor would have potential, and it just so happened that the 86 fits the same target demographic as Scion was aiming for.

      Scion basically wasn’t a car company, it was just a marketing line for Toyota vehicles.

    • Paul says:

      There was nothing wrong with the Scion company model. “Elderly folks were snapping up the cars” because they were a better value and more affordable than Toyota. Toyota’s cars were designed for families, not elderly drivers needing small, efficient, value-priced. Scion was an affordable and reliable alternative for drivers whom liked Toyota, but not Toyota prices. Unlike other auto consumers, there isn’t a vehicle class that specifically caters or is marketed to elderly populations.

  4. ahja says:

    It was a time when boring old corporate bean counters in Aichi thought to distill the term “econobox” to its most literal form. A time when cynical marketing departments attempted to sell it to a target demographic that couldn’t afford it, with patronizing ads about special snowflakes or something. A time when the only exciting cars Toyota Motor Corp made were called Lexus. A time of facebook, American Idol, and bullshit corporate rap. It was the most banal time ever for Toyota. Then Akio Toyoda came, and he demanded that the LFA be born. And then the FR-S, and then the LC500. And he realized Scion was a foolish mistake, and banished it forever, its mediocrity and phoniness never to be repeated again.

  5. YaBoyYeti says:

    To be honest and fair, this might be a stain on Toyota. Its a big corporation telling kids “hey there fellow youth I can too get ‘jiggy’ with ‘it’ “. Kids gravitated towards their 80s cars because they were cheap and reliable. Also with a wicked aftermarket scene because racing. Now Toyota created Scion like Ikari Gendo created Ayanami Rei. Both attempted to connect with the past (spoilers) and to a point both failed because Both Rei and Scion found someone else (spoilers). Also (spoilers) they both died.

    For you 1st gen XB owners keep them mileage low. People are gonna start to collect them, rebadge them as Bb yotas.

    2nd Gen Xb who cares… just use it.

    Tc owners try to get “hard to find parts” Trd parts are gonna be hard to find soon

    Xa owners, trash your cars. (unless youre receiving your pension)

    Iq read Xa

    Tbh I hope the NHTSA allows kei cars (probably not because politics) But I would like to see some dope Kei builds. Maybe even that SFR. !!Dedos Crusados!!

    • Ant says:

      I thought the iQ was one of Scion’s better efforts, actually. Okay, so it was another car already sold elsewhere as a Toyota, but although not many US customers were interested, they’re actually quite good cars.

      The biggest problem appears to be (and correct me if I’m wrong), that they never sold the Scion version with the manual transmission available elsewhere. Small, nimble cars like the iQ are crying out for something a bit more involving than a CVT.

      • YaBoyYeti says:

        Hmm might have to give it a second look. Its ok for like city driving but in the suburbs and occasional mountain driving I feel like this car would struggle with places I would like to go.

        As for the transmission CVT is horrible, I agree that they should have given the option for a manual transmission.

  6. Ryan Senensky says:

    I would think that Scion will be remembered much like Geo. It will be known as that cheap commuter car brand but it will also be known as being an entry brand for many jdm models toyota would never bring here otherwise. Without the scion xB we wouldn’t have all of those cool small cars like the Honda Fit or Nissan Cube.

    Don’t forget that despite how hilarious the cube and xB are, they have been the only bastion against 3000+ lb curb weights and ridiculous size of modern cars. Even the fit can be considered the true successor to the Honda Civic of the 90s.

    Many of the models, despite being lackluster in performance, did possess the lightweight feel and dependability of a classic Japanese vehicle as well.

  7. Yoda says:

    Scion = xB1 and maybe tC. The rest of the FWDs’ll just be old econoboxes, and the 86 will be remembered by its’ JDM name regardless of the badges any particular one came off the line with since condition’ll be the most important consideration (they WILL get hammered!)

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