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Columbia Business Monthly

A $2 Billion Facility With 4,000 Employees

Apr 16, 2024 09:53AM ● By C. Grant Jackson

By C. Grant Jackson

When Scout Motors begins producing its new all-electric sports utility vehicle (SUV) at its new plant under construction in Blythewood, it will be making a new all-American icon in an all-American factory for an American audience. That was the clear message when Jan Spies, Scout’s new Chief Production Officer, spoke to a Breakfast Briefing of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce on April 10, 2024, at Segra Park in the BullStreet District.

Spies joined Scout earlier this year after two decades at Volkswagen Group. Among projects he has managed is the Volkswagen Group of America’s manufacturing campus in Chattanooga, which opened in 2011 and now produces more than 250,000 vehicles per year. He had served as Head of Planning and Production Technology for Volkswagen AG, since 2019, and has held multiple other production leadership roles. He holds a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Scout Motors Inc., once a wholly owned subsidiary of the United's States's Navistar International, which was acquired by Germany's Volkswagen Group, is entirely U.S.-based and acts as an independent company within the Volkswagen family. Scout Motors is currently headquartered in Tyson, Virginia. 

Spies emphasized that Scout is an American company. “Volkswagen is our investor, but it's not the owner that says what we have to do,” Speaking in heavily accented English, Spies said, “I'm completely relocated here. My family is here, I'm here. I'm even paying taxes here.”

Spies works out of the office that Scout opened in Columbia’s BullStreet District in November 2023. That office is serving as the home base for Scout while the new production plant is under construction. The Columbia office already has more than a dozen employees.

To work on developing the new Scout EV, Scout Motors also announced in December the creation of the Scout Innovation Center in Novi, Michigan. The research and development facility houses Scout’s product, design, and engineering teams and members of cross-functional support teams.

Often called the first American SUV, the Scout was a two-door off-road vehicle built between 1961 and 1980. It is that legacy and the iconic nature of the first Scout vehicles that Scout Motors hopes to capture in relaunching the brand.

Spies said Scout believes very strongly in a future for electric vehicles, and especially for the electric SUV.  “We are talking about a market of 5 million SUVs and pickups. It's not about pushing somebody out of that market, it's about getting our segment,” Spies said, in a niche where electric mobility will grow.

Scout is investing at least $2 billion in the new all-electric vehicle production facility on a 1,600-acres site, with the massive plant taking up about 1,100 acres. The plant is expected to employ 4,000 people.

Once site preparation is completed, construction is expected to start later this year, Spies said. He hopes that by the end of the year the building will be fully up so that in 2025 Scout can begin moving custom production equipment into it.  Spies said he hopes the first vehicles will be manufactured in late 2026, with production ramping up in 2027. “We can build about 200,000 cars per year, maybe 230 if the market really wants it,” Spies said.

Even though the plant will be heavily automated, with almost a thousand robots, it will still require a workforce of some 3,500 blue-collar workers, Spies said. In addition, Scout will need about 500 white-collar workers.

“We are not friends of having the hundred percent fully automated factory. We want to have people who work in that factory,” Spies said, because there are some functions “that no robot, that no technology can copy. We want to be flexible, and we want to have good jobs.” Scout wants to have a “good level of automatization, having good people, doing good work,” he said. “It's not zero people in the factory because we don't believe in it.”  

Because the plant’s workforce is likely to be largely people who have never worked in an automotive plant before, Spies said training and recruitment is getting a major emphasis. Scout’s human resources manager is talking to universities, colleges, technical schools, and high schools. 

“Because the guys that are today in schools are our employees of tomorrow,” Spies said. Scout will even have its the first three interns this summer, he said, “even though there's hardly a company yet. But we said, let's take in some people to have them understand, to start to spread the message about who we are and what we do” 

But Spies said that Scout is not trying to siphon off talent already employed in the area’s factories or businesses. “It's not about taking them away from companies that are represented here. It's not about stealing them from our neighbors. “

In addition to finding and training its workforce, Scout is also focusing on developing its supply chain for materials to build the vehicles. Scout is setting up meetings with potential suppliers.

But Spies notes that “the closer the suppliers are to us, the better it is for you, the community, and the state. And the better it's for us because it's less transportation cost that we have.”

Some potential suppliers have asked if Scout can somehow host them, Spies said. To that end, he said, “we are working on something we call a supplier park on site.”  There's an area that Scout would try to develop – a kind of suppliers community. “However, it's our plot, it's our area. We are not selling off something from that site,” he said.

Much of what Scout is doing and wants to do in Blythewood and in South Carolina is about community, Spies said. 

“We are here because we want to be part of the community. We want to be part of you helping growing with us, because we know it doesn't work if we just come here and do business,” he said.  Coming to Blythewood “with a factory is part of the overall commitment, and that's what will help South Carolina, will help Columbia, to grow and to strengthen your economic power as well. And we need that. So we are not just here to help, we need your help as well.” 

To further a sense of community connectivity, Scout recently opened a Columbia Connection Center on the ground floor of the company’s temporary office in the BullStreet District. The new space is where members of the public can come and ask about employment opportunities or companies can ask about becoming a supplier. The public can also learn about the history of the Scout vehicle and the progress of construction on the new plant. 

The center will open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and other times by appointment.

You can find out more about Scout Motors, including opportunities for employment, at