Will Consumers Buy Compact, Unibody Scion Pickups?
Toyota has been kicking around the concept of building a compact unibody pickup for it’s Scion brand. While Toyota’s motivations aren’t completely clear, they probably go a little something like this:
- Because the Tacoma has grown from compact to midsize, there might be room in the marketplace for a truly compact pickup truck.
- Truck owners seem to be fiercely loyal to a particular brand, and this loyalty is often fostered at a young age. Building a cheap compact Toyota truck gives us a chance to grow a lifetime customer.
- A compact pickup would help Toyota meet our federal fleet fuel economy rating.
- Compact little unibody pickups have some appeal worldwide.
- Toyota is really, really good at building small vehicles.
So there you have it – Toyota’s case for building a compact pickup for the Scion brand. Now let’s break it down a little further.
#1 – Is there room for a truly compact truck? To hear some consumers talk, a $15-$20k compact pickup – even if it were severely limited in capability (like a 4′ pickup bed and a 1,000 lbs payload limit) – would be a strong seller. However, on that basis alone we disagree. Why would a consumer chose a brand-new truck with limited capability when a “real truck” with low mileage is available for roughly the same cost? The answer: The only way a compact pickup makes sense is if it can get great fuel economy. Hence, Toyota is discussing making their Scion pickup a hybrid. Smart – very smart.
#2 Truck owners are loyal. True. People buy what they already like, so if you can get them in your vehicle at a formative age, you’ve got a shot at building a lifetime customer. Toyota created Scion six years ago because they understood this fact. Scion was supposed to appeal to teens and college kids, and when those young buyers started to grow up, they would move into either Toyota or Lexus. If Toyota built a Scion compact pickup like the one above, they might be growing future Tacoma and Tundra customers.
Unfortunately, Scion hasn’t been much of a success at pulling in youngsters…so it might not be the best platform to launch a compact pickup from.
#3 – A compact pickup helps Toyota’s fleet fuel economy rating. Most likely this is true, but the federal government still hasn’t announced specifics, so we’ll have to wait and see.
#4 – Compact unibody pickups have worldwide appeal. Kind of. It’s always difficult to compare one market to another and draw a conclusion. Tata’s Xenon XT, for example, is one of Tata’s strongest sellers worldwide. For about $16k USD, you can buy a 2wd crew cab pickup with a 2.2L diesel. The diesel has 140hp (low), but 235 lb-ft of torque, so it’s probably peppy…and the fuel economy (22-25 mpg) is solid. Add in A/C, power windows, power steering and brakes, a basic warranty, and a 2,000 lbs payload limit, and it sounds great. However, is this type of truck a strong seller because of it’s low price, or because of it’s combination of fuel efficiency and truck capability?
Much like the North American auto market is not a blueprint for the rest of the world, what works in the rest of the world might not work at all in the U.S. or Canada…so we’re not sure this is a reason to do anything.
#5 – Toyota is really, really good at building small vehicles. True…but they don’t need to say that out loud. Here’s what one Toyota exec said at the recent Detroit Auto Show (source PickupTrucks.com):
�Toyota has such a strong heritage of doing a very good job with youth and with trucks, when you look at (the Toyota) Tacoma � I�m not trying to be too cocky, but we pretty much have owned that segment for a long time.
Besides, the critical question here isn’t if Toyota can make a great vehicle…the question is will consumers embrace a pickup that doesn’t use the traditional body-on-frame design? The answer: Probably. Truck owners have always made noise when innovations came along – automatic locking hubs, electric transfer cases, and independent front suspensions were greeted quite coldly when they debuted – but they usually embrace the innovations once they’ve been proven.
So there you have it – a quick break-down of the thinking behind building a compact unibody pickup. What do you think – is it a good idea, or a concept doomed to fail?
Filed Under: Auto News