Heir of the big dog.

Toyota used this year’s New York International Auto Show to launch its youth brand, called Scion. An outgrowth of the 1998 Genesis group experiment that gave us cars such as the MR2 Spyder and the Echo, Scion hopes to capture the imagination of the so-called Net Generation. Toyota is desperate to appeal to this sixteen-to-twenty-four-year-old demographic, which has been migrating away from Toyota. Currently, the median age of the Toyota buyer is forty-six years.

So, as a burnt offering to the cult of youth, Toyota presents the Scion bbX. The bbX is nominally a concept car; it has been on sale as the Black Box (or bB) in Japan for two years now. Starting in June 2003, Scion will sell an Americanized version of the Black Box (as well as another Scion car) out of a special corner of Toyota dealerships.

Many a showgoer questioned the wisdom of aggressively marketing to a group of consumers who, according to Toyota’s own research, detest aggressive marketing. The assembled showgoers also questioned the car. The bbX might look cool to a nation of penned-in Chevy Astro aspirants (i.e., Japan), but its resonance on the wide-open plains of America may be faint. It certainly didn’t have the journalists scrumming around it the way Honda‘s Element did.

Like the Element, the bbX is a living room on wheels, with “phone-booth-like headroom,” according to Jim Press, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.’s senior vice president and chief operating officer. “It also has phone-booth styling,” noted one observer. But the Pioneer sound system inside is a stunner, with an available 1350 watts of power. The bbX also uses a coil-over suspension. More details will follow as the liftoff for Scion nears.

Like all big launches, Toyota knows this one is an experiment. As Press remarked, “We know we’re going to make some mistakes.” If you’re Toyota, you can afford to.