AP Technology

Volkswagen-backed Scout Motors, in nod to past, toasts start of construction of electric SUV plant

BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. (AP) — Scout Motors celebrated the start of construction on its $2 billion electric SUV plant in South Carolina on Thursday not with a line of people in suits with shovels but with a nod to the company’s gasoline-powered past.

A fleet of old Scout vehicles drove a brick from the site of the former factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana — where the rugged, boxy precursors to SUVs were built in the 1960s and 1970s — to the site where Volkswagen Group-backed new company is trying to revive the brand.

Scout thinks the market for its $50,000 electric SUV isn’t with a futuristic appearance but rather something resembling how the vehicles once looked but with all the environmental and driving benefits of an electric vehicle.

“While we are honoring the hard-working heritage and the soul of Scout, we are ready for the future when it comes to production and technology,” said Christian Vollmer, a member of Volkswagen’s extended executive committee.

The plant in Blythewood, South Carolina, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Columbia is expected to open in 2027 and employ up to 4,000 people if Scout Motors can hit its goal of making and selling 200,000 vehicles per year.

South Carolina offered $1.3 billion in incentives to Scout Motors, including plans to build a new interchange on Interstate 77 leading to the plant, a railroad bridge over the highway and massive improvements to sewer, power and other surrounding roads. There are also grants the company can use for whatever it needs to get production going.

The Scout Motors site will join BMW in Greer and both a Volvo and a Sprinter van plant near Charleston as South Carolina continues to try to become an automaking hub, especially in the electric vehicle market.

“The competition is fierce in the Southeast. People are leaving the Rust Belt and the snow and want to come here where there’s economic freedom,” Republican South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said on a sunny 60-degree Fahrenheit (16 Celsius) mid-February day.

Scout Motors made gasoline-powered vehicles for about 20 years when it was owned by International Harvester. Production ended in 1980, but their shape and features continue to influence modern SUVs. Scouts have had a niche fanbase of collectors ever since.

The Volkswagen-owned Scout Motors enters a growing, but uncertain U.S. market. Buyers of electric vehicles get federal tax credits, but a Republican win in the 2024 presidential election could end that program and lead to tariffs that would likely raise prices.

“If you get it, it’s a strategic opportunity. But you have to plan without those things,” Scout Motors CEO Scott Keogh said.

Thursday was a celebration for Scout Motors. As the speeches were being made, the beep beep of construction vehicles could be heard all around. The hundreds of guests had to stay on temporary pathways to avoid the mud.

Keogh promises an environmentally friendly plant. Scout planned a meeting later Thursday with hundreds of residents who live nearby to show them what they were doing to protect the land and be a good neighbor.

He also promised a fun electric vehicle that won’t be like any other out there.

“What we’re doing here is relaunching an American icon,” Keogh said. “And we’re doing it here in South Carolina.”

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