After the “hippie” bus and the Beetle, VW has its sights set on America again

As Volkswagen seeks to resurrect the Scout brand in the United States, CEO Herbert Diess shed light on the decision, saying it represents an opportunity for the German auto giant to “become much more American”.

VW announced plans to relaunch the Scout as an all-electric pickup and “rugged” SUV last Wednesday, with prototypes due to be unveiled in 2023 and production to begin in 2026.

In the same announcement, the company said the vehicles would be “engineered, engineered and manufactured in the United States for American customers.”

“The United States is our biggest opportunity for growth,” Diess said, speaking to CNBC’s Annette Weisbach last week.

He went on to explain why the automaker was targeting the highly competitive US market.

“We are still very niche, very small, with around 4% market share [in the country]”, he said. “We want to get up to 10% market share by the end of this decade.”

Diess pointed out that the company had momentum, was profitable and was “making really good progress with electric cars”.

These vehicles include the all-electric ID Buzz, which is inspired by the T1 Microbus or “hippie” van. European versions of the ID Buzz are expected to go on sale this year, with sales of a US model beginning in 2024.

This image, from 1970, shows people driving a version of the Volkswagen Microbus at a rock festival in Oregon.

Brian Payne/Picture | Michael Ochs Archives | Getty Images

VW hopes the introduction of the Scout and ID Buzz will continue its tradition of introducing iconic designs to the US market. Over the years these have included the Beetle and various iterations of the Microbus, like the one pictured above.

The Scout’s history dates back to the 1960s, when International Harvester – originally an agricultural company, now known as Navistar International Corporation – began development. Today Navistar is part of the Traton Group, a subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group.

Production of the Scout ceased in 1980, but Volkswagen’s decision to revive it and comments from Diess provide some clues as to its strategy for the future.

“If we really want to become relevant in America, we have to look at the other segments,” he said. “And pickups, big SUVs, are very, very big in America.”

Diess went on to describe Scout as a “beloved brand in the United States. So this is a good opportunity for us to become a lot more American.”

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When asked if the Scout pickup would only be for the US market, he was evasive. “I wouldn’t say ‘fully dedicated’ but first and foremost…it’s an American product.”

“It will be an American product for American customers, designed for the American environment. Will it be sold outside? Maybe, to be decided later,” Deiss added.

VW plans to form a separate, independent company this year to design, engineer and manufacture the Scout pickups and SUVs for the US market.

Volkswagen’s focus on electric vehicles is a far cry from the “dieselgate” scandal that rocked it in the 2010s. Today, its electrification plans put it in direct competition with established automakers from long-standing like GM and Ford, as well as with newcomers like Tesla.

Regarding the company’s overall prospects in the United States, Diess was optimistic.

“We are building capabilities in the United States… later this year, around August, production of the ID 4 will begin at our Chattanooga facility,” he said.

“We have programs for Audi and Porsche to increase their market share and … we will see other products, electrical products, made in America, for America.”

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