Whether it's decking out an xB or nailing apexes in an FR-S, Scion has always brought car customization culture to a younger - and young at heart - demographic. In celebration of that lifestyle, as well as its upcoming cars the iA and iM, Scion hosted its so-called Auto Influencer event. Organizers welcomed some of the biggest and well-known builds, even some not limited to the the Toyota family of brands, extending invites to other popular modified imports, classic muscle cars and exotics.
Up on a main stage were two modified renditions of the iA and iM that demonstrate the platforms' customization potential. We caught up with Scion Division Vice President, Doug Murtha, for an exclusive interview of what's currently going on at Scion and what we can expect in the future.
Super Street: What are your thoughts on the brand new iA and iM?
Doug Murtha: Well, we had a little pause in our new product introduction cadence, so very happy to have a couple of products coming to the market. There were some challenges and opportunities from having two arrive at the same time, but we think there's a big opportunity, big sale potential for both products.
SS: Scion brought out the xA and xB together right?
DM: Yeah, so we've done this before. To be honest the iQ and the FR-S were pretty close to each other. I think they represent a little evolution in the product lineup, but one that aligns with the customer we're going after. We haven't been in a more conventional sub compact hatch form before and this is our first sedan with the iA. So different markets, different customer mindsets, but I think something for two very important markets that we are targeting.
SS: What does the competition look like?
DM: In the iM case there's the Hyundai Elantra GT, the Mazda3, and the Ford Focus hatch. Those are a few of the major cars in that segment. For the iA there's the Ford Fiesta sedan, Hyundai Accent and the Chevy Sonic.
SS: A good number of people loved the concept of the iM, but when the production model came out, a lot of them weren't too sure about it. What happened?
DM: I think there's always going to be a gap between concept car and production car. Those gaps vary and sometimes the production car winds up being a more compelling product than the concept car, sometimes they're pretty close, sometimes there's a bigger gap. We've heard some of that feedback. I think we knew that when we created the concept car, because the production car was already finished. We were taking some liberties and having some fun, but we still think the end production car is a good execution.
SS: Any news for the next-gen Scion tC?
DM: Our big announcement in Los Angeles was we have three new products coming within two years. So we have two here and we have a third product that will be joining the lineup within two years. We'll be talking about that soon. But beyond that not too many specific concepts in the future state of any products in the lineup.
SS: The FR-S has made a huge impact in our industry. Can you tell us what's next? Maybe more power? Any design changes? Is the convertible idea scrapped?
DM: The FR-S will have a mid-cycle change. That's something we'll be talking about not for too long. It'll be mostly a cosmetic change, not a major performance change. It's a good visual change and everybody will be able to tell the difference. The convertible, honestly, was something we really wanted to do. As a North American team we were pushing really hard to make a business case for that. The reality is, in today's market we needed to find friends in other global markets who are also able to contribute some volume to make a business case. We weren't able to pull enough volume to make that pencil, so no convertible in this generation.
SS: What's your take on the enthusiast following for Scion?
DM: Scion has always offered an array of products that don't necessarily completely fit one single audience. The iQ wasn't targeted at the same as customers as the FR-S. I think there are some people that would like to see us come out with an entire lineup of performance FR-S-esque products. That's not really our future, but do we want continue to keep one or two products in the lineup that cater to that audience? Absolutely. Are we going to necessarily be able to flip and come out with a lineup? That's probably not in our future.
SS: In your opinion how is the Scion brand evolving? Or has it remained the same?
DM: I think certain things remain the same. Our basic objectives are unchanged. From a customer's standpoint we're here to bring distinctive products to market that they wouldn't otherwise have a chance to buy. We're here to sell those to them through a process that is distinct from other brands within the market, including Toyota, such as our pure price philosophy. From our selfish standpoint as a manufacturer and for our dealers, we're looking to bring in somebody to the brand who might be okay with Toyota, but might not otherwise choose to buy a Toyota product. Lastly to serve as place for experimentation, try new stuff with products and marketing. That was true in 2003, that's true in 2015. I think what has changed is the customers we're catering to. From the time from our launch to today, there has been a big shift in the mindset and pocketbook, quite honestly, of the market we are targeting. We had to evolve in our communication, in our branding, and in our product lineup to take into the consideration of the changes in our target market.
SS: What are some of the obstacles you had to overcome since you've been with Scion?
DM: Number one I didn't come from a sales and marketing background. To Toyota's credit they tend to take people from different parts of the organization to potentially plop you into a very different place. I came from a product planning background which was very Japan facing and suddenly got spun around to a sales and marketing role to meet our field organizations, our dealers, and all the rest. Another thing we talked about was we have a spell without a lot of new products, so how do we keep our dealers engaged, how do we keep consumers interest at a time that we don't have a lot of new things to talk about. We've tried our best with some of our Release Series products and keep our hands in SEMA. When you don't have a new product, can you make good with the products you have? Those are some of the challenges, but we're excited to have new products in the market.