Tuesday, February 2nd, was certainly a tumultuous day for many. Depending who you ask, you may hear different reasons for Toyota’s announcement to discontinue the Scion brand we’ve grown to know and love since its inception in 2003. According to the official press release, the “experiment” that was the Scion brand is simply being “transitioned back to the Toyota brand” over the course of the year, after having successfully achieved its goals of attracting younger buyers to the Toyota family, as well as testing new/experimental products and marketing strategies.
Of course, the other side of the story is Scion’s waning market performance – with only 56,167 total sales in 2015, down from an all-time high of more than 173,000 in 2006 – and some reports that put the average age of Scion owners at 45 years (not very “young”). Nonetheless, Scion Racing’s achievements and contributions to motorsport are without question, from the early drag racing and time-attack achievements of racers like Christian Rado, Lisa Kubo, and Scott Kelley, to name just a few, to the successes of Scion Racing drivers in Rally America, to the FR-Ss and RWD-converted tCs that gained serious traction (no pun intended) in the drifting world, cementing themselves atop US national and world championships with Fredric Aasbo’s domination of Formula Drift competition last year.
What we do know: Scion models will be cleared out of dealerships through the summer of 2016 with various sales incentives (we’re speculating), and remaining MY17 Scions in production will then be re-branded as Toyotas and sold among the existing line. The FR-S, iA, and iM will all be sold as Toyotas after August 2016, but the tC will be discontinued.
What we don’t know: How that change will affect current Scion Racing teams and affiliates, and what impact the change will have on certain Scion dealerships. According to our friends at Greddy, home base for Ken Gushi’s FR-S drift program, Scion Racing programs will be funded and allowed to campaign for the remainder of 2016. “Really, it’s business as usual for us,” Gushi said in an interview yesterday. “If anything, this gives us extra motivation to win that championship this year!”
Mackin Industries – distributors of Rays and Volk forged monoblock goodness, among other top-tier tuning brands – also maintains a Scion interest in their now-2JZ-powered FR-S Pike’s Peak collaborative effort with Greddy and SoCal tuning authorities Evasive Motorsports. “We don’t see anything changing drastically, at least for us” commented Mackin GM, Eddie Lee. “We’re going to continue to run our car in 2016 and see what Toyota has planned for the model. The FR-S is already known as a Toyota in most of the world, and we suspect it will become that here in the US and continue production.”
Michele Abbate, Scion FR-S racer and STU-class Western-division defending Champion of the SCCA’s U.S. Majors Tour (the highest-ranking amateur competition road-racing championships in the U.S.; prelude to series like the Pirelli World Challenge), and class winner in the series’ first 2016 race just last month, echoed similar sentiments on the fate of her car and program. “The FR-S was sold as a Scion here in the States, but it’s known more as a Toyota everywhere else. It’s such a great car that I don’t think it will be going anywhere anytime soon.”
But what about the fate of Scion Racing teams backing the ill-fated tC and xB, whose production was axed late last year? Beyond MG has been Scion’s agency since the brand’s inception and has helped produce and manage various Scion initiatives, social media, lifestyle and racing programs, including Fredric Aasbo’s Formula D effort, in conjunction with Papadakis Racing. “2016 will be business as usual for us, on the racing front,” said Fred Chang, EVP of Marketing for the agency. “Fredric will be gunning for another championship in the Rockstar Energy Drink / Hankook Tire / Scion Racing tC.” But what might happen past that, no one would say. And we think that may be because no one really can say.
Late last night, we fired off a “Hail Mary” email to Scion Communication Manager Nancy Hubbell with a bunch of our lingering questions. Not only did we get a response this morning (which would only happen with a company as mobile and connected with their base as Scion), we got one that’s as transparent as anything we could’ve hoped for, right now:
“Frederic (Aasbo) and Ken (Gushi) will definitely be racing this year in their current cars, but we’re in the process right now as to whether they will be badged Scions or Toyotas. Our transitional marketing theme will be ‘Scion by Toyota’ but just how that will be represented on the track is under discussion. The announcement was just two days ago so we’re starting to work with the Toyota brand to see what will be the most effective way to communicate with and engage racing fans in this transition. We’ll have news at a later time that we’ll be sure to share.”