Scout Motors wants to put the ‘mechanical’ back into electric trucks

When a groundbreaking ceremony takes place for a new factory, all the executives typically line up with their commemorative gold shovels and pose for photos throwing away the first piece of dirt.

But Scott Keogh, CEO of Scout Motors, didn’t want to play “fake shovel games” before the groundbreaking of his company’s new factory outside Columbia, South Carolina.

Instead, the team found a brick from the old International Harvester plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the original Scout SUVs were produced from 1961 until the brand was discontinued in 1980. That stone will serve as the starting point for Scout’s electrical rebirth. in the US, but also as a reminder of the legendary past.

“That will give us a strong start here,” Keogh told me a day before the groundbreaking ceremony.

You may not remember it, but the name Scout used to be synonymous with tough, off-road SUVs. The first Scout was introduced by International Harvester in 1961 as a small two-door SUV with a raised, boxy design. It was a precursor to the more advanced SUVs to come and was intended to compete with Jeep, with cool details and a folding windshield. The Scout and the second generation Scout II were produced at the Fort Wayne plant as two-door trucks with a removable hardtop.

Production ceased in 1980 and Volkswagen acquired the rights to the brand when it purchased Navistar International in 2020. (Navistar was founded in 1985 when International Harvester went bankrupt.)

The name Scout used to be synonymous with rugged, off-road SUVs

VW could have let the brand lie fallow, but instead decided to revive Scout as an electric-only brand. The German automaker is one of the largest in the world, but its market share in the US is still relatively small. In an effort to regain some relevance, it made the risky decision to enter one of the most competitive markets in the US: rugged trucks and SUVs. And now it has the factory – and the CEO in Keogh, who previously headed VW’s North American operations – to build out its adventure-themed fleet.

“The godfather is coming back,” Keogh said. “If you think about it, Scout kind of invented the segment.”

Scout’s future factory will be located on a 1,600-acre site in Blythewood, South Carolina, less than 20 miles from Columbia. And at full capacity, the plant can produce more than 200,000 vehicles annually.

Of course, little construction gets done in this country without some public assistance. The South Carolina Legislature passed a $1.3 billion tax incentive package for Scout last spring, with assurances that the company would create thousands of jobs.

Scout has said it will invest $2 billion of its own money in the project and expects to eventually generate “4,000 or more permanent jobs.”

Keogh said groundwork at the site has been completed and the company will begin laying the foundation this summer. Vehicle production is expected to start at the end of 2026 and be produced at full volume in 2027.

But before then, there is still a lot of work to be done. The company is expanding its staff and appointing top managers responsible for design, production and technology. Local hiring has begun as the company has opened an office in Columbia’s BullStreet District. Scout is also expected to unveil its first vehicle, an electric pickup, later this year, most likely at the Detroit Auto Show this summer. An SUV follows about six months later.

Scout gets a little help along the way. Last year the company signed a deal with Austria’s Magna Steyr to help develop the new range of electric vehicles. VW placed an order with Magna Steyr, an off-road specialist that builds the G-Class for Mercedes-Benz in Graz, Austria, worth €450 million ($492 million) to develop the models, according to local reports.

“The car will remain upright. It’s not a jelly bean.”

In the interview, Keogh gave some details about what we can expect from Scout’s first truck. First he explained what not to be expected, which is another smooth, blob-like EV designed more for aerodynamics at the expense of hard corners and bends.

“The car holds up well,” he said, “it’s not a jelly bean.”

The overhang, or the length of the vehicle extending beyond the wheelbase, will be “super tight” at the front, Keogh said. Scout also retains the ‘iconic’ folding windscreen, as well as the way it connects to the C-pillar. And it will retain the original logo, as well as many of the old graphics. But there will be limits to Scout’s commitment to nostalgia as it tries to build a new brand.

“We didn’t want to say to America, ‘It’s the ’70s again,’” Keogh said. “It’s the 21st century and of course it’s a modern car.”

The problem with that is that most modern cars are also computers, and Scout’s desire to be a vehicle for the rugged set could clash with today’s over-reliance on touchscreens and semiconductors.

Keogh said the problem with EVs is that many are built as “insulation machines,” protecting drivers from the outside world with hyper-intelligent software, advanced driver assistance systems and a host of gizmos and gizmos. That’s not Scout’s guiding philosophy. For example, the door handles of Scout’s future vehicles will be real door handles.

“We believe in mechanical, and we believe in chunky buttons.”

“We believe in mechanical,” he said, “and we believe in big buttons.”

VW in particular has run into problems implementing functional software in its vehicles, which has led to a lot of unrest at the top levels of the company. Some of its early EVs have been criticized for packing too much functionality behind the touchscreen.

It’s too early to say how Scout will handle things differently. But Keogh provided some insight into how the company will approach the thorny issue of software and technology.

Off the line, Scout’s first EVs are expected to be relatively simple to streamline the production process. The engineering teams will test wiring harnesses to ensure that the entire system is stable and functional from the start. Any additional complexity can be added later via over-the-air software updates, he said.

“Use software where it can make a difference,” Keogh added. ‘Pull him behind the curtain as much as possible.’

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