FR-S: The Selling of a Different Sort of Scion

On Monday, Toyota announced that its Scion subsidiary had begun sales of the 2013 FR-S sports car. The 2,800-pound rear-drive coupe, with its 200-horsepower two-liter boxer four-cylinder engine and exhaustively refined chassis, represents a departure for a brand known primarily for odd-box machines aimed at young buyers lured to dealerships by no-haggle pricing and a hefty dose of lifestyle marketing.

By most measures the FR-S, co-developed with the Subaru BRZ and marketed in Europe as the Toyota GT-86 and in Japan simply as the 86, takes Scion out of familiar territory. So must a Scion dealer adapt to an unfamiliar way of selling it?

Andy Carlson, general manager at Scion Santa Monica in Southern California, acknowledges that selling the FR-S presents some new challenges but regards this as an opportunity, not a problem.

“The FR-S buyer is a little more hard core than is typical of our enthusiast base, but we see some crossover from our Scion tC model,” he said in a telephone interview, a reference to a comparatively mild coupe offering from the brand. The FR-S, he said, was sportier and more powerful, “but we’re doing similar marketing.”
Scion Santa Monica invited its current customer base to a coming-out party of sorts for the FR-S and reached out to new prospects on the Internet. He added that Scion’s First 86 promotion, a nationwide program intended to put what Scion called “enthusiast” buyers in the cars before deliveries to the general public, helped generate interest in the coupe.

“Those first 86 buyers have been out on the streets for about a month,” Mr. Carlson said. “They’re doing a lot of marketing for us, generating a lot of buzz.”

He added that given the parsimonious doling out of coupes to dealers — he said he would receive only four or five cars a month — not much marketing would be necessary. Scion Santa Monica has already taken deposits from 20 potential buyers, he said, which would translate to a wait of several months.

Like other Scion vehicles, the FR-S is offered with no-haggle pricing. The suggested retail price is $24,930 when equipped with a six-speed manual transmission and $26,030 with a six-speed automatic.

Low-mounted seats with substantial bolsters, paddle shifters for the automatic transmission and handling that editors at Car and Driver said might make drivers think “they could slalom the lane-marker lines on an interstate at 85 m.p.h.” contribute to the car’s growing cult. The magazine, incidentally, added that the Scion probably could not complete the aforementioned exercise because its stock Michelin Primacy HP tires provided only very modest grip but noted that the car’s tenuous connection to the road contributed to the fun.

And though most praise for the FR-S has been directed toward its driving character, Mr. Carlson credited the car’s appearance for making his job easier.

“I’ve had to custom tailor a specific sales pitch for the FR-S,” he said. “I take them out to a car we have for test drives, stand back and say, ‘What color do you want?’”