Scout Motors is an independent US company backed by Volkswagen Group whose board of directors includes Dr. Gernot Doellner, the head of group strategy at Volkswagen AG, and Peter Bosch, the member of the Bentley Motors board responsible for manufacturing. Its CEO is Scott Keogh, formerly head of Volkswagen of America. In a press release dated March 3, 2023, Scout announced it will build its first manufacturing facility in South Carolina.
The 1600-acre site is 20 miles north of Columbia and is bordered by Interstate 77 and Blythewood Road. This places it near major cities and talent hubs such as Charleston, Charlotte, Greenville, and Atlanta, and provides access to major highways, the ports of Charleston and Savannah, and universities that are focused on automotive engineering. Groundbreaking for the $2 billion factory is planned for mid-2023 with production is projected to begin by the end of 2026. Scout Motors says it is considering becoming a publicly traded company at some point, much as Porsche did last year.
The announcement claims the new factory will have an annual capacity of 200,000 electric vehicles and could employ as many as 4000 workers. “Scout Motors will provide thousands of South Carolinians with previously unimagined opportunities and prosperity for generations to come. The Palmetto State, with its rich history, superior people, and sterling automotive manufacturing reputation, is the perfect place to restart this iconic American brand,” said Governor Henry McMaster.
South Carolina is an established leader in vehicle manufacturing and is currently home to more than 500 automotive-related companies and 75,000 automotive industry employees. The state is No. 1 in the US for export sales of completed passenger vehicles and is committed to becoming the epicenter of electric vehicle innovation. An executive order issued by McMaster in October 2022 prioritized building EV infrastructure, preparing the state workforce for advanced manufacturing jobs, and strategically organizing EV planning under a centralized state working group.
All New Proprietary Chassis
Scout’s trucks and rugged SUVs will be built on a newly designed all electric platform that delivers credible capability and off road prowess, the company says. With internal engineering focused on attributes including ground clearance, approach angles, robust axles, payload capacity, range, and new digital features, Scout products will honor their heritage while injecting fresh American ingenuity to create a new era of iconic all purpose vehicles.
The original Scout was produced by International Harvester from 1960 to 1980. It arguably was the world’s first utility vehicle capable of both off-road adventure and family duty, having pre-dated the original Ford Bronco by 5 years. It was meant to be an answer to the original Jeep, but with a fully enclosed body instead of the Jeep’s canvas enclosure. “The original is now an American icon whose heritage is kept alive by a dedicated community of doers that continue to push their vehicles on the farm, in the wilderness, and on family outings,” the company says. “Scout Motors is revitalizing a legend and returning manufacturing to American shores.”
“We’re honored to partner with South Carolina to usher in this new era for Scout,” said Scott Keogh. “Scout has been an American icon since introducing an SUV in 1960. It’s the vehicle that took your family on a camping trip, that gave access to the great outdoors, and that showed up on the job site every morning. Today, we’re re-imagining Scout’s original ingenuity and electrifying its future. We’re bringing the Scout spirit to South Carolina and it’s going to be a hell of a ride.”
Not Your Father’s SUV
In an interview with TechCrunch, Keogh gently mocks the current crop of SUVs that are more soft road vehicles than off road capable. The word he uses over and over again is “rugged.” Well, having ridden in an original Scout, all I can say is I question whether Americans, who complained bitterly about the harsh rid of early SUVs, truly want the bone-crushing ride of the original with its two solid axles and massive unsprung weight in the suspension and drivetrain. Keogh says the response in focus groups has been overwhelmingly positive but those people may not fully appreciate that “rugged” and “comfortable” are ar opposite ends of the spectrum.
One thing Keogh did say was that Scout Motors is evaluating the online sales model pioneered by Tesla. “We have not decided but we’re taking a long, hard look at it,” Keogh said. Historically, he said, manufacturers dominated the scene, but lately the dealerships have been calling the shots, often at the expense of everyone else. “It’s always been an industry that played more towards legislation, industrialization, networkization, as opposed to what’s the best consumer experience,” he said. “This is the differentiator: Awesome retail experience focused on the customer, focused on technology.”
We’re not sure “networkization” and “differentiator” can be found in your Funk & Wagnall’s, but we think Volkswagen’s America dealers are not going to look too kindly on being cut out of the loop when Scout vehicles go on sale. On the other hand, Ford has told its dealers there will be some changes made in how it sells its electric cars, so anything is possible. There would be few tears around CleanTechnica global headquarters if there were to be a rebalancing of the power structure between manufacturers and dealers.
Two Scout Models At First
The first Scout model will be a small, off-road focused SUV that Keogh calls an RUV, which stands for “rugged utility vehicle.” The second will be a larger truck which will “lean a little bit more on road” in terms of its driving characteristics. The RUV will to start in the $40,000 range, while the truck will be “a bit north of there.” Both will be built on a bespoke body-on-frame chassis. A battery partner has not been announced, but Keogh says the vehicles will be able to take full advantage of the incentives contained in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Scout’s new EV platform will share some items such as heating and cooling components, motors, and inverters with other Volkswagen Group vehicles, but Keogh insists the Scout vehicles will take a radically different approach to software integration and the overall user experience. Volkswagen has been criticized for being overly concerned with soft touch controls. Scouts will likely have real controls that people can actually turn, click, or twist. Real knobs on the radio are a distinct possibility.
“We really want to keep a lot of the mechanical nature,” Keogh said. “I think if you look at the American buyers, yes, they appreciate software, but they don’t want software to be all-dominating. I think you’ll see a lot more, let’s say, old school physicality, but in a good way.” While Keogh is adamant that the new Scout will honor the past, it won’t be a brand hung up on legacy like some of its fossil fueled competition. “I don’t want to make Scout a fossilized retro brand that says, ‘Dear America, it’s 1977. Again.’”
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