Thrill Ride: FR-S Hot Laps Rev Up Associates to Promote the Scion Brand
July 11, 2012
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The Scion FR-S twisted and turned, its tires squealing and, it seemed, the orange plastic cones flinching along the course set up in the J Lot at Toyota Motor Sales’ headquarters. Yet, in the expert hands of motorsports driver A.J. Fealey, no markers were injured in the making of Scion’s recent associate ride-and-drive event.
“That was incredible! Even better than Magic Mountain!” gushed Philip Cheong, a senior applications analyst in Information Systems, as he emerged from his lap with Fealey with a big smile on his face.
“And it was free!” chimed in Vicki Komisarek, a Toyota Financial Services’ executive assistant, who also took advantage of the thrill ride.
Without a doubt, the hot lap in Scion’s new affordable sports car was the emotional highlight for many of the 1,100-plus associates who set aside an hour of their workday to get behind the wheel of not only the FR-S but also the iQ, Scion’s new microcar. Beyond hands-on experience with the products, Scion sought to remind associates of the brand’s unique business model and the importance of its contribution to TMS.
Thumbs Up! -- TMS Chairman Yoshi Inaba leaves no doubt about how he feels about the Scion FR-S, in particular in the capable hands of driver A.J. Fealey (in background).
TMS launched Scion in 2003 to connect with young, trend-setting car buyers in a way that mainstream Toyota simply couldn’t. It proved to be a big hit, soaring to a high of nearly 175,000 units in just its third full year. But since then, based solely on the measure of sales, it would seem the brand has lost relevance.
Not so says Jack Hollis, vice president of Scion, who echoed key facts shared with each associate who participated in the ride-and-drive:
- Since 2003, Scion has sold 835,000 units and 75 percent of those buyers (more than 600,000) were new to Toyota.
- Scion keeps customers in the Toyota family. When Scion customers trade in their vehicles, eight of the top 10 new vehicles purchased are a Toyota or another Scion.
- The median age of Toyota owners is 55. The median age of Scion buyers is 37, making it the youngest brand in the industry.
“This is what Scion is all about,” said Hollis. “We exist to attract new buyers to the family. Our purpose is to innovate, experiment and be different—to be what Toyota and Lexus haven’t been and to show them what they could be. We’re smaller, so we can take more risks. We’re allowed to fail. If we crash and burn, it’s not going to have a lasting impact. But along the way, we just might find something that really works. Then we can transfer that learning to Toyota and Lexus.”
The FR-S and iQ promise to push that envelope even further, expanding Scion’s product lineup from three vehicles to five. The iQ, with an EPA combined rating of 37 mpg is the most fuel efficient non-hybrid on the road today, gives the brand a lower entry-level price point. Meanwhile, the performance-oriented FR-S slots in above the tC, assuming the mantle of “halo vehicle.”
The fresh injection of new products, timed with a car business that seems to have regained its footing. Hollis said that with an annual sales volume in the neighborhood of 100,000 units, Scion would be small enough to remain nimble and innovative while also large enough to be viable for dealers. Events like the ride-and-drive aim to enlist TMS associates in the cause.
“We don’t always give our associates an opportunity to drive our vehicles. And, to be honest, the main reason is that it costs money,” said Hollis. “People say we should save our budget for marketing, but shouldn’t we market ourselves to our best advocates: our associates?”
Sandra Salvador-Luna, a Tier 1 representative in the Toyota call center, is among many who would respond with a resounding “yes!”
Virtual Reality -- Associates get the chance to drive the FR-S in a video game while waiting to get behind the wheel of the real thing.
“I mostly work with Toyota customers, but I also provide back-up support to the Scion team,” she says. “Customers call and ask me how the FR-S feels and I can’t really answer them. Now, if someone asks I can tell them it handles extremely well. And it has a lot of power, a lot more than I would have expected from such a small car.”
Meanwhile, Cheong, still beaming after his “once in a lifetime” hot lap, was already considering a purchase.
“I’m thinking about getting one for my daughter,” he said. “She’s coming to the end of a four-year lease on a tC and the FR-S could be her next car. I was really impressed. My daughter’s friends have already been exposed to Scion through the tC. At least one of them bought one for herself as a result.”
And that, as Hollis would likely say, is what an associate ride-and-drive event is all about.
By Dan Miller