EV Sales Gloom Pierced By Jaunty Retro SUV From Scout Motors

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The mixed picture on EV sales isn’t so mixed after all. If some leading automakers are scaling back their plans, that just leaves more room for the up-and-comers to come in. It’s a throwback to the early years of the US auto industry, when anyone with a dream and a monkey wrench could start making cars. In the latest news on that score, the new Volkswagen offshoot Scout Motors is forging ahead with plans to manufacture new electric trucks and SUVs inspired by the 20th century retro fan favorite Scout all terrain vehicle.

The EV Sales Picture Is Not So Gloomy After All

For the record, our friends over at History.com toted up 253 active automakers in the US as of 1908, a number that quickly shrank to 44 by 1929. Just a handful of companies continue to dominate the US auto market today.

That means one or two hiccups can color an entire news cycle. Apparently something of the sort happened to media reporting on the EV sales picture late last year, after Ford and GM announced they were scaling down their EV manufacturing plans. Nevertheless, by the beginning of 2024 industry analysts were pointing out unmistakeable signs of strength in the EV sales area (here’s another example).

If public policies in support of decarbonization continue to ramp up, that will also be reflected in EV sales. Earlier this week, for example, the influential public utility Tennessee Valley Authority made the point that EVs are an essential feature of its regional decarbonization planning.

Another Way To Boost EV Sales

So far, much of the EV sales activity has centered on cars that look like, well, cars. Yet to be tapped is the market for car buyers who are looking for something new and different upon which to drop their dollars.

That’s the case in the electric autocycle market, where a combination of futuristic sportiness and daily practicality could win over drivers who otherwise would be unlikely to give up their gasmobiles.

The desire for retro styling is another area that could help boost EV sales. That is the path down which Volkswagen decided to go when it inherited the Scout brand from International Harvester, upon acquiring Navistar (the successor to IH) in 2020.

The Scout, originally produced by International Harvester from 1960 to 1980, was the world’s first utility vehicle capable of both off-road adventure and family duty,” Volkwagen explains. “Scout 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.”

Scout Motors has been leveraging online resources to connect with vintage Scout enthusiasts in advance of production, which is expected just around the corner around the end of 2026.

Where Is The Scout & What Does It Look Like?

Based on a silhouette teased by Scout Motors last year, the new Scout will be an echo, not a replica, of the original retro style. We’ll know more when the company releases more information. In the meantime, the new Scout factory is taking shape Blythewood, South Carolina.

As if to clap back at the EV sales doubters, Scout staged a splashy groundbreaking for the new factory on February 15, to much acclaim from South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster.

“Today’s groundbreaking marks another milestone for Scout Motors and the entire state as we continue to move forward with this project that will supercharge the Midlands’ economy,” said McMaster.

“We applaud Scout Motors for their commitment, which will continue to move South Carolina towards a future defined by innovation and prosperity,” he emphasized.

Scout has big plans for the future of its new electric vehicle. Beyond the initial goal of producing 200,000 new EVs per year at Blythewood, Scout is already aiming to recruit the next generation of automotive innovators to South Carolina.

“Scout Motors’ trucks and rugged SUVs will be built on a newly designed all-electric platform, engineered to deliver credible capability and off-road prowess, with a focus on ground clearance, approach angles, robust axles, payload capacity, all-electric range, and new digital features,” the company notes.

The Blythewood factory is about 20 miles north of Columbia, South Carolina, with easy access to “talent hubs” elsewhere in the state including colleges and universities in Charleston, Charlotte, and Greenville, as well as Atlanta, Georgia.

Looking for work? Apply at scoutmotors.sctechjobs.com.

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What’s Up With EV Sales In South Carolina?

Electric vehicle registrations barely made a blip in South Carolina and other parts of the Southeast up through 2020, according to data displayed by the US Department of Energy. That could change if homegrown EV manufacturers like Scout can catch the attention of the local car-buying public.

Public policies in support of EV sales should also provide some help. That includes a 2022 Executive Order from Governor McMaster, in which he outlined an economic development plan for electric vehicles under the South Carolina Department of Commerce.

“S.C. Commerce is charged with coordinating the implementation of a strategic initiative designed to prioritize and enhance ongoing economic development, business support, and recruitment efforts with electric vehicle and automotive manufacturers,” SCDC notes.

That includes the launch of the new website scpowersev.com last year, upon which EV stakeholders can find a list of tax incentives and other forms of financial assistance for manufacturers.

The Big Picture On Workforce Recruitment In South Carolina

All of this is very exciting from an EV sales perspective, though recruiting top automotive engineering talent to South Carolina could be somewhat problematic considering the state’s track record on workforce mobility.

Last August, the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce ran the numbers and found that “students graduating from South Carolina’s colleges and universities are not found at high rates in the state’s wage records five or more years post-graduation.”

To the extent that seeking employment is the primary reason for leaving, it’s possible that a growing EV industry could encourage more degree holders to stay.

As it stands, though, the outlook for recruitment appears challenging. Going by the wage records collected by SCDEW, only about 53% of South Carolina degree holders find work in-state one year after graduation. The number drops to 48% after five years and 43% after 10 years.

“All studies attempting to match supplies of college graduates with future workforce demand must be cognizant of the mobility of this segment of the labor force,” SCDEW warns, noting that “students with degrees in high-demand STEM fields are the least likely to secure or retain long-term positions in South Carolina.”

Not helping much is the state’s position on reproductive health care, which makes it tough to sell women, girls, and other pregnancy-capable people on making STEM careers in the state. As reported by NBC News last month, some college-bound high school seniors are already reassessing their options.

It remains to be seen what, if any, impact there will be on the ability of the South Carolina EV industry to attract and retain top talent, but raising the person-hood status of pregnant people would be a good place to start.

Follow me @tinamcasey on Bluesky, Threads, Post, and LinkedIn.

Photo (cropped): Vintage Scout Racing Team courtesy of Scout Motors, via Instagram.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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