Prior to the New York International Auto Show, Toyota distributed an upbeat press release. Come party with us, it mentioned. “Scion is not going away quietly.”
But, as I walk toward Scion’s booth, a quiet unease fills a void as soon as occupied by a loud, confident generational pulse. The standard eye-catching signs with heavily embossed, trendy hashtags are all but entirely absent upon my arrival. Massive subwoofers sit dormant inside 13 years’ worth of 1-off tuner ideas. Engineered studio lighting softly highlights the vehicles on show, even though simultaneously attempting to hide the vast, empty spaces in between them.
Scion’s show booths are normally chock-full of tchotchkes and the gorgeous folks handing them out — but not today.
You see, Scion’s booth is situated far away from the main action of the week. In numerous methods, Jacob Javits Center’s North Hall is the auto show version of New York’s Hart Island.
Shortly right after the Civil War, Hart Island became the dumping ground of New York City’s unclaimed dead. The mass grave operates mostly as a potter’s field. North Hall, free of the continuous hum of activity that electrifies the primary auto show floor, is the surreal orphanage of brands oft-forgotten: Mitsubishi, Mini and (surprisingly) Subaru, in addition to Scion. And it is in this hall that the Japanese giant’s uncommon resignation manifests itself. Scion sits cast out, chagrined, and surrounded by indicators that read “Scion by Toyota” as if forced to completely give up its own identity.
Against an eerie backdrop of absolute silence, the booth operates entirely unstaffed. A security guard stands subdued in the far corner of the booth, swinging one of her legs to and fro as if to boringly kick an invisible soccer ball over and more than. Near her, an auto show custodian kills time in between car dustings to aimlessly poke at a single of the booth’s advertising and marketing installations.
Six concepts that helped define Scion’s raison d’être at different points in its short history populate one particular finish of booth. Among them is the near-ideal Scion BBx Concept that launched the brand in 2002 to near ravenous intrigue. It evolved soon after into the production Scion xB — a rebadged Japanese import loved by a generation that craved style and practicality in an affordable package. In contrast, the horrendous Slayer tC show vehicle is evidence that Scion fully lost its way by 2014. It’s this sliding scale of concepts that portended the brand’s existing reality of dissolution.
Just as I was contemplating my exit, a stocky man with thinning hair seems in the booth escorted by an entourage of handlers. He’s wearing a conservative suit that’s completely unbecoming of a Scion enthusiast. But, this man is none other than Jim Lentz, founding vice president of Scion and current CEO of Toyota Motor North America.
I method Mr. Lentz with trepidation, and — surprisingly — he’s a lot more than prepared to stand with me as we admire what as soon as was and what will no longer be.
“It’s fun when you appear at all the old ideas to see how daring Scion was to push the envelope,” Lentz says with a slight smile of remembrance. “It’s sad to see it go, but — at the same time — it served its goal.”
I continue to peruse the booth right after our chat, inspecting the vehicles and displays while also trying to recognize this overwhelming sense of finality. There’s something soul crushing about it all, but I can’t place my finger on it. I feel like a club patron who’s arrived two hours too early.
Then I understand anything staggering: nobody else is coming.
If you do not don’t forget, Scion’s goal was to cater to us: the millennials who have gradually increased our acquiring energy to a point where all automakers now think about us a force to be reckoned with. It stuck its neck out in 2003 when other folks refused to budge.
In years since, our generation has slowly built up its purchasing energy to captivate the consideration of Ford, GM, and even Toyota itself, to the point exactly where Scion’s existence was no longer a niche proposition. Now, in its death, instead of becoming surrounded by pals in its time of hospice, Scion’s exit is becoming treated with the exact same collective indignity as Christo’s slow and painful death in “The Beach.” Why go to a funeral when there’s a celebration going on next door?
My only worry is that Scion’s story will be forgotten right here, in this automotive Hart Island, and nobody will care sufficient in decades future to visit the dead.