2004 Scion xA Among the silliest marketing practices is the worship of "youth" as a monolithic, chronological state of being. It's a delusional ritual that eschews national, regional, ethnic and other cultural differences. It imagines a single, sub-30-year-old worldview. It erroneously assumes the universal ability of young people to pay even modest prices for new cars. Such youth marketing is based on misguided thinking -- the kind that recently steered Mitsubishi Motors into a financial abyss and knocked its former chief executive of U.S. operations, Pierre Gagnon, out of a job. Gagnon's finger-popping, head-bobbing-while-driving TV advertisements certainly attracted many young buyers. But too many of them were incapable of handling monthly car notes. The result was a $304 million charge against consumer loan defaults in the fiscal year ended March 31. Auto industry analysts expect Mitsubishi to take a similar charge at the end of the current accounting period. You'd think, with such an example, other car companies might have learned a lesson about youth marketing. Clearly, though, that isn't the case. We have this week the 2004 Scion xA, which is a stylistic reinterpretation of the Toyota Echo subcompact car introduced in 2000. The Scion xA is not the problem. Like the Echo, it is a good little car, a perfect urban runner. The problem is Toyota Motor's new Scion brand division and the gung-ho youth marketing mission assigned to it. Toyota believes it must do something spectacular to attract young buyers to replace old customers. To put it bluntly, it is the company's commercial hedge against the grave. Depending on which industry analyst you listen to, the current average age of Toyota's U.S. buyer is either 46 or 48. In actuarial terms, those people are closer to the grave than 20- or 30-year-olds. Companies don't sell to the dead. They sell to the living. Thus, we have the retail emphasis on youth. But what Mitsubishi forgot, and what Toyota seems to be forgetting, is that people who are 50, 60 or 70 are still very much alive -- and they tend to have considerably more money than people who are 20 or 30. More important, the companies seem unaware that neither joy nor passion wane necessarily with each turned page of the calendar. Look at the snout-nosed, hatchback Scion xA. Anyone can enjoy the little car. It's a genuine buzz-buggy, equipped with the same 108-horspower, in-line four-cylinder engine that rides on the same front-wheel-drive, 93.3-inch wheelbase platform as the Echo. The difference is that the Scion xA is cuter than the Echo in the weird way that something can be so ugly, it looks cute. It is a batter value than the Echo inasmuch as it offers more standard equipment for the money. The Scion xA is more fun than the Echo, too. Why is that? It's because, this time, Toyota did not make the same mistake with the Scion xA that it and other automakers made with small cars in the past. Toyota did not equate making the Scion xA small with making it cheap. Interior materials are high-quality. Toyota didn't make it boring. Even the center-top-dashboard instrument cluster in the Scion xA has more whimsy, more personality than the one found in the Echo. Toyota also designed the Scion xA to be outfitted, via options, to individual tastes and budgets. That's not a youth thing. It's a common sense thing -- giving people what they need and want in a package, at a price that makes them feel good about getting it. It remains to be seen if the Scion xA will be hip enough to attract young people, most of whom ignored the youth-oriented Echo. But the Scion xA is good enough to attract their parents, who probably will wind up paying for the car anyway.