Like all dealers, Nai Nan Ko Jr. pays attention to profit. But when it comes to Scion, it’s not just pure price. It’s pure passion.
“Oh my gosh, yes,” he says. “Scion is the test-child of Toyota. At Scion, we can experiment with new ideas that may be too radical for Toyota. I’m not speaking only of experimentation in product design and sales process, but in how we engage our young buyers, who’ll eventually become our mainstream buyers. What does Gen Y want, and how do we speak to them?”
Ko doesn’t need dry demographic studies to answer that question. He is the demographic.
“I look like I’m 15, I act like I’m 60 and I’m somewhere in between,” says Ko, who is not only the 30-year-old general manager of Toyota of Wellesley in Massachusetts but the entire Ko Automotive Group.
After earning a B.S. in industrial engineering from Columbia University, Ko worked as an operations research analyst for Tiffany jewelers. But he soon joined the automotive group founded by his father, who arrived in Boston from Taiwan in 1968 with just $300.
While building his business, his father worked long hours that kept him away from his son. “When I went to college, he sent me a letter saying how sad he was about not having spent any time with me,” Ko says. “I decided it was time for me to spend time with him.”
As a member of the Scion family, Ko spends time on texts, tweets and Facebook.
“People think of social media as a communication tool, but it’s more than that,” he says. “It’s become a lifestyle. We jump on the computer and socialize on Facebook instead of jumping in a car and going to see someone.”
Scion should create passion for its products within people, who will then share that passion with their online communities.
“People don’t socialize with a company, they socialize with people,” Ko says. “I have 800 friends. They follow me and my passions online. They don’t follow the brand because it’s less personal.”
But they do want the brand to understand them, to make a personal connection when communicating with them.
“Gen Y is marrying and having kids later,” he says. “Gen Y singles have more disposable income as they near 30. We work hard. It’s nice to get into a great car after work and think, ‘I’ve earned that car.’”
And if that car is an FR-S, all the better. “This single car will define the brand,” he says. “It will bring a whole new energy to the brand.”
“I love it,” he says. “It’s a wonderfully balanced car. The FR-S is about power-to-weight ratio and low center of gravity – the intersection of power and handling. It’s not about American muscle and straight-line horsepower; that’s like arithmetic. FR-S is calculus. It’s a purist driving car. It should be on a race track.”
Ko should know. As a member of the Sports Car Club of America, an amateur racing league, he pilots Mazda Miatas in 13-hour endurance races on a Virginia track. “I’m absolutely dying to get Scion to produce a race-spec edition of the FR-S,” he says. “It could be dominant against Miata and Honda.”
Looking beyond Scion, Ko wants to introduce an educational, low-pressure approach to selling cars. “We need to teach people to become passionate about the car and not pressure them into buying the car.”
Quite simply, he says, “I want to revolutionize our sales process. I want to help shape a new image for car dealers, one that’s built on a foundation of education and discovery, not old-school tactics.”
One that will resonate with Gen Y—and generations to come.