Drive by Numbers - Scion FR-S vs. Subaru BRZ

If the twin cars from Subaru and Scion were put in a data boxing match, who'd take home the title?


 Jessica Caldwell, Senior Analyst I don't know much about boxing, but I do know that when opponents are evenly matched from a physical perspective, the fight instantly becomes more interesting. Sure, we all like a David vs. Goliath story now and again, but rarely does that have a happy ending in the real world. So, if we applied similar logic to sales data and pitted two cars against each other in a data battle royale, what would make the most interesting pairing? I'd say twin cars.

Tale of the Tape:
The Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S were among the most anticipated vehicles of 2012. Co-developed by Subaru and Toyota, they hit the market one year ago to much enthusiast fanfare. Being twin cars, their DNA is very similar, hence the twin nomenclature. Both cars have seen success in the market thus far and have added to their brand in a meaningful way — but who's done it better?

Let the fight begin. This one is scheduled for four rounds of head-to-head (data) combat.

Round 1: Sales Data
From a sales volume prospective, Scion most definitely takes the early lead. In the 12 months the two cars have been on sale, Subaru has sold one BRZ to every 2.6 Scions sold. However, in a post-bankruptcy world, we know the sheer number of sales isn't everything. Even though the BRZ is outsold, it has healthier metrics in other areas — it sells at a faster rate indicating greater demand, and sells at a higher price. We also must keep in mind availability. Scion has hundreds more dealerships than Subaru, making it easier for many buyers to get.

 Sales Data

Round 1 winner? The BRZ put up a good fight but this round goes to the Scion FR-S with a score of 10-8. This is the car business (in the highly competitive U.S. market) and a sale is a sale. Even though the FR-S sells for a lower price, it's not outrageously lower and since neither car has much in the way of incentives, it's safe to assume no one is losing money here.

Round 2: Customer Composition
One of the cornerstones of this project's mission was to attract a younger buyer to each of the brands. By selling an attractive, RWD sports car at a reasonable price, they were hoping to capture the holy grail of Generation Y…the ones that actually have jobs and incomes.

This round is tight, as both have done a remarkable job. Both cars really hustle in the "Under 24" age bracket — especially the FR-S, whose market share among those buyers is more than double the industry average. Although when you look at Gen Y in total (age 34 and under), the BRZ actually captures a slightly larger share.

 Customer Composition

Both cars heavily sell to men, and normally I'd say that's a good thing since men never want to drive a car deemed a "chick car." However, in this case, I'd say that for a car that sells such small volume it's better to show more gender diversity. Currently, the percentage of women driving the BRZ is so small it matches vehicles like an Econoline or Lamborghini. FR-S is showing more mass market appeal, which is better for the long run and perhaps why the FR-S is selling at a much higher rate.

Round 2 winner? BRZ takes this one 10-9. Even though FR-S shows a healthier gender balance, 20% of BRZ sales are to buyers 34 and under. That's 2% higher than FR-S. BRZ's Gen Y market share is 7% higher than the rest of its brand so although sales may be low, it is bringing a younger buyer into the Subaru dealership. Buyers that can someday grow into an Outback or Forester.

Round 3: Online Hype

In sheer online hype on Edmunds.com, Scion runs away with this category, as more people have considered an FR-S as a percentage of all entry sports cars since both vehicles went on sale last May. The FR-S's traffic peaked in July when it made up 10.6% of entry sports car traffic — a segment that includes such big names as Mustang, Challenger, Camaro and 370Z.

 BRZ and FR-S Consideration

When looking at what other cars these shoppers are considering online, the BRZ starts to come alive in this round. Another piece of this project's mission is to serve a halo to their respective brands. People coming in to look at a BRZ on Edmunds are also looking at other Subaru products. This is interesting because the BRZ demographic doesn't closely align with the Subaru brand demographic, but every car Subaru sells (except Tribeca) is in the Top 20 cross-shopped vehicles with the BRZ. Scion, on the other hand, only has the tC in FR-S's Top 20.

 Cross-Shopped Models

Round 3 winner? Scion FR-S wins this closely contested round 10-9. Scion pulls ahead due to sheer traffic numbers but the BRZ fights back gallantly by drawing people in to look at the other cars Subaru has on offer. The volume for Subaru isn't in the BRZ but if it can parlay those shoppers into an Impreza or Forester, it's a win for the brand. But more people are clearly interested in the FR-S.

Round 4: Loyalty and Trade-Ins
This round is a bit subjective as we are taking a look at what was traded in to purchase both the BRZ and FR-S. It's not a hard-hitting metric likes sales, but knowing what type of consumer is coming into these brands is important. Looking at the list of top traded-in vehicles, BRZ appears to have the edge. First of all, it has a cornucopia of brands, which from a conquest prospective, is advantageous. The Scion mostly draws from loyalty, as its top trade-ins are other Toyota products. BRZ looks as if it's attracting the performance-oriented consumer with cars like Mazda 3, Mini Cooper and BMW 3 Series in its Top 10. I look at a lot of these lists, and I don't ever recall seeing a Mini Cooper in top trade-ins for anything besides itself.

 Loyalty and Trade-Ins

Round 4 winner? The BRZ takes this 10-9. It's a delicate balance between conquest and loyalty as both are good to have, but judging the trade-in lists, the BRZ is just cooler. How analytical, huh?

And the winner is....
This was a good, clean fight and although I assumed many similarities between these cars, I was constantly surprised by the differences. Looking at the data, they don't seem as twinsy as I naturally assumed, further proving that fights between evenly matched opponents are not only good but unpredictable. Despite BRZ staging a late comeback by taking the final round with conviction, this overall match goes to the Scion FR-S. After the stunning performance in Round 1, it was hard for the BRZ to recover.

Congratulations Scion FR-S. Your next opponent is Floyd Mayweather. Good luck with that!

Do you like numbers too? If so, check out our Industry Data Center

Jessica Caldwell is the Senior Director of Pricing & Industry Analysis for Edmunds.com. Follow @jessrcaldwell on Twitter.

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