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The VW Scout is a brand revival too far | Axon’s Automotive Anorak

26th May 2022
Gary Axon

Were it not for the German’s legendary reputation for time keeping, I might have dismissed the recent announcement that the Volkswagen Group is going to revive the North American Scout SUV name as an April Fools’ Day joke, albeit delivered almost two months late.

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After all, the Volkswagen Group already has a bewildering portfolio of vehicle brand names, both current and inactive, so the last thing it needs is yet another motoring name to confuse us all even further. Outside of Canada and its native USA, the Scout name is not widely known, despite this being one of the pioneering and most capable of all off-roader 4x4s. It was launched long before such vehicles became commonly known as SUVs and littered our smooth tarmac roads and car parks, rather than loitering on muddy farm tracks where they really belong.

According to its recent official announcement, Volkswagen is bizarrely going to revive the Scout name for a family of electric off-road vehicles, aimed primarily at the sizeable North American markets where the name has some nostalgic recall and a worthy reputation.

The Scout was a model name first used by the American large commercial vehicle marker International Harvester (IH) in 1961 for a range of small (by IH standards), rugged all-wheel-drive automobiles. Within twelve months of launch, the pioneering four-cylinder, 94PS (69kW) IH Scout was selling in sizeable numbers in both rear-wheel-drive 4x2 and 4x4 derivatives. They were mainly being bought by private US buyers, much to IH’s surprise, rather than the farmers and business users IH was expecting.

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The Scout’s success (over 35,000 were sold in its first year) prompted local off-road rival Jeep to bring forward the introduction of its Wagoneer ‘SUV’ competitor in late 1962, plus convinced Ford to re-schedule the launch its own Bronco 4x4 in 1965.  

VW’s move to reintroduce the Scout – initially for the North American market only – is already causing much intrigue and debate among the USA’s Scout clubs and enthusiasts. Meanwhile the local VW dealer network is demanding it gets to sell Scouts, rather than sales being made on a dedicated retail channel. Volkswagen’s ID. sub brand has already taken an early foothold in the new electric vehicle market, but to compete with the pending introduction of all-electric American rivals such as Rivian and (eventually) Tesla with its controversial Cybertruck, Volkswagen clearly feels it needs to offer something more focused.

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This seems strange, because VW has yet to offer any pick-up model in the USA, even its capable Amarok. Although it naturally already sells a number of different high-end SUV passenger car models through its Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley franchised dealer network, some as EV’s only.

IH built its very last Scout model on 21st October 1980, just as the ‘civilian’ SUV market was beginning to take off, and also after presenting an attractive future Scout concept for the following 1981 Model Year at various late-Autumn American auto shows. By the mid-1980s, IH was concentrating solely on producing diesel engines, heavy trucks, buses and agricultural vehicles. The company had fallen on hard times, caused largely by damaging union relationships, but also not helped by the loss of the Scout.

In 1991, the previous IH business divisions were broken up and sold off, its main lorry-making arm being acquired by rival American truck maker Navistar in 1995. Following a factory move from Chicago to Warrenville, Illinois, Navistar took a tentative step into the large SUV market with its International MTX. The giant SUV pick-up truck flopped, not helped by being much too large and unsuitable for export roads and tastes (especially here in Europe). Given the huge size and importance of the ever-expanding SUV segment in the USA, there were rumours in the early 21st Century of a revival of the IH Scout model, but this never materialised.

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Meanwhile, back in Europe, VW was kept busy acquiring other well-known vehicle brands, from Skoda and Bugatti, to Scania trucks (and even Ducati motorcycles through its Audi/Lamborghini ownership) to bring more than a dozen different vehicle marques under the VW Group umbrella.

Now VW is adding Scout to its already extensive portfolio. I can understand this from an American premium SUV maker/reputation view point, but as the failed Nuffield/BMC/British Leyland combine proved a few decades back, trying to juggle too many different name badges can get very messy and confusing for the customer and dealer networks.

VW already has a few now-dormant names under its control that made proven and very capable all-wheel-drive vehicles, such as DKW and Auto Union. The go-anywhere ‘mountain goat’ Munga 4x4 was favoured by the West German military for many years. Perhaps a revival of the Munga name might have been kinder, deservedly leaving the Scout to rest in peace for ever more.

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