Toyota's new Scion points to a new industry premise: Boomers may hold the wealth, but brand-loyal youths hold the key to a carmakers' long-term success.
The Scion is not your father's Toyota. But he might have bought one if it had been around when he was a young buck.
Or so Toyota believes.
The boxy vehicle introduced this month in California represents the giant automaker's first major launch since its Lexus line more than 10 years ago. More important, it represents a bid for young buyers - an aggressive move to address its concern that a key demographic is shunning the brand.
"These [young] customers won't look at a Toyota, because you see them everywhere," says James Farley, president of Scion, also the name for the newest division of Toyota Motors North America.
Similar concerns pervade many business sectors today - and have been especially acute in the auto industry since the fall of Oldsmobile, which simply couldn't find enough buyers under 70 years old.
That failure - and the struggles of American firms from J.C. Penney to Levi Strauss - is forcing marketers to revive the perennial question: What do kids want? Companies from corner boutiques to global conglomerates are all trying to influence tomorrow's adults about what the next big trend should be.
Toyota's saga illustrates the sway young consumers hold. In addition to recasting its image, the carmaker is trying to persuade trendsetting teens and young adults - consumers who traditionally buy used cars - to buy their next vehicles right out of the showroom.
"It's really arrogant, actually, that we're trying to tell trendsetters what to do," says Mr. Farley.
If Scion succeeds, Toyota stands to secure brand loyalty. It also hopes that the tastes of its newest buyers may be adopted by mainstream consumers and produce a big, long-lasting payday. The carmaker's long-term aim is to pass General Motors as the world's No. 1 seller.
But to succeed, it will have to work quickly to capture current and future buyers in the largest and most diverse generation in US history: Generation Y. That group, when expanded to include so-called millennials - people ages 8 to 23 - encompasses some 60 million people.
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