October 14, 2008

Does Scion's future lie in Toyota's new iQ?

In the years since Scion introduced the second generation xB, the once-booming Toyota division has watched sales go stagnant. While rising gas prices have helped sales of the xB and xD hatch, both models are less fuel-efficient than their predecessors. Consumers and reviewers alike have lamented the loss of the lighter and more nimble Scions of years past.

Late last week, MotorTrend reported that Toyota is considering sending their IQ subcompact to US shores as a new Scion model. According to sources inside the Japanese automaker, the rebadged iQ will debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The Toyota iQ was developed for the Japanese and European markets as a 2+2 competitor to the two-seater Smart for Two. At nine-feet, nine-inches long, five feet high and five-feet, five-inches wide, the front-wheel-drive IQ manages to squeeze in a diminutive rear seat that unfolds from the flat load floor.

While the rear seats aren't particularly spacious, the additional capacity make the iQ a more palatable prospect as an urban runabout for a single-car household.

The city car meme is reinforced by the iQ's exceptional fuel economy. When equipped with the 1.0-liter VVT-i SOHC inline-three and a five-speed manual, the iQ delivers a combined fuel economy of 65.7 mpg in the EU test cycle.

The iQ is also stuffed to the gills with safety features. In addition to usual alphabet soup of antilock brakes, side and front airbags and electronic traction control systems, the iQ offers the world's first rear passenger airbag. Since the rear seats occupy most of what would otherwise be the trunk, Toyota equipped the iQ with a rear curtain airbag which deploys in a rear-end collision if the rear seat is in use.

If the rumors are indeed true, the Scion-branded iQ would likely be offered with the 1.5-liter four offered in the Toyota Yaris, backed by either a five-speed manual or a version of the European market MultiDrive CVT automatic.

Ideally, the Scion iQ would be priced at about $16,000, putting it in direct competition with the Smart ForTwo passion coupe.

The logic behind selling the iQ stateside is that the city-friendly runabout would lend credibility to the brand's targeted urban demographic -- a concept that seems lost considering that the xB and xD are larger and heavier than their predecessors.

A 65 mpg commuter car with such quirky styling would go a long way toward granting the Scion brand a new, buzz-worthy model.

On a personal note, while I'm hesitant to give voice to the rumor mill, I would be pleasantly surprised if this one comes true. Speculation is inevitable in an industry where automakers rely on secrecy, but the rumor mill has also been used as a tool to lead competitors astray. Even though all the marketing logic adds up, take all of today's news with a grain of salt.

Naturally, as the Los Angeles Auto Show draws near, we'll be watching this one closely. Stay tuned.


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