I must admit, massive amounts of environmental damage potentially resurrecting the International Harvester Scout was not on my bingo card for 2022, but hey. Here’s the story of how we got to this point, and it’s a massive tale of corporate malfeasance, financial restructuring and dumb diesel emissions decisions. Oh, and I’m not talking about Volkswagen’s dieselgate scandal.
Let’s back up a couple decades and look at what on earth an International Scout is. International Harvester formed in 1902 with the merger of McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, Deering Harvester Company, and a few smaller equipment companies. Initially focusing on agricultural equipment from tractors to stationary engines. International Harvester quickly figured out that farmers needed trucks for taking pigs to market, so the Model A Auto Wagon was born in 1907. That’s right, International Harvester was making light-duty trucks before the Model T even came to market. After a few decades of success in the light truck market, International Harvester decided that American consumers needed a rugged four-wheel-drive vehicle that wasn’t nearly as crude as a Jeep. In 1961, the Scout 80 was released after just 24 months of development, quickly making the Jeep CJ-3B look a bit agrarian. After initial success, the upgraded Scout 800 was launched in 1965, followed by a series of improved models which culminated in the 1971 to 1980 Scout II.
But why did Scout production end in 1980? While the Scout had an excellent reputation in off-road racing, finishing first among 4×4 production vehicles in the 1977 Baja 1000, International Harvester was in really bad financial shape and had to abandon passenger vehicle production to focus on commercial vehicles. Well, business focusing could only take the firm so far and International Harvester ended up selling off its construction division to Dresser Industries in 1982 and its farm equipment division to Case Corporation in 1984. The trouble with International Harvester selling its equipment division is that the equipment division held the rights to the brand name and logo. Oops. No matter, International Harvester rebranded to Navistar International in 1986 and production of commercial vehicles continued.
While Navistar International was pretty good at building trucks and school buses, its engine-building skills were a bit of a mixed bag. Perhaps you’ve heard of Ford’s infamous six-liter Powerstroke diesel V8 that would blow head gaskets, clog exhaust gas recirculation system coolers, grenade turbochargers and eat oil pumps? Navistar International built those motors. Ultimately, Navistar International’s inept engine building would be its undoing.
In 2000, the EPA started cooking up stricter emissions standards for heavy-duty diesel vehicles that would take partial effect in 2007 and full effect in 2010. With lower targets for nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) looming, Navistar International had three options: install selective catalytic reduction or urea injection on their diesel engines, engineer advanced exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) systems or use nitrogen oxide absorbers. Navistar International’s then-CEO Dan Ustain scoffed at the notion of truckers fiddling about with urea fluid at truck stops and barged full-steam ahead toward advanced EGR systems. Some $700 million was funneled into EGR development, seemingly on-track with other OEMs like Cummins.
Dubbed MaxxForce, Navistar International’s updated line of engines featured variable geometry turbochargers, closed-crankcase ventilation and cooled exhaust gas recirculation, all technologies aimed at increasing power and cutting emissions. These new engines met 2007 emissions requirements just fine, keeping operating costs low for truckers while delivering adequate performance. At the same time, Navistar International was feeling smug due to trucker backlash over urea injection and reports of poor reliability of non-EGR emissions systems.
In 2007, competitor Caterpillar launched its ACERT line of engines featuring diesel particulate filters and aftertreatments, and these engines were disastrous. According to trucking website Overdrive Online, several class-action lawsuits were filed against Caterpillar, all of which alleged poor reliability and performance from ACERT engines. As a result, Caterpillar announced in Jun 2008 that it would end production of heavy-duty highway-legal diesel engines in 2010. Between Caterpillar’s emissions system nightmare and Cummins’ resolution to stick with EGR, everything was looking good for Navistar International. Right up until it didn’t.
Navistar International’s EGR-reliant MaxxForce engines didn’t cut emissions nearly enough to meet the EPA’s 2010 standards without severe compromises. Not only is urea injection significantly more effective at cutting NOx emissions than EGR, the EPA set a NOx standard of 0.2 grams per brake horsepower. An engine with urea injection would therefore be permitted a higher output than an engine relying on EGR. Another issue was fuel economy. While urea injection can be a hassle, good implementation of urea injection has a dramatic effect on emissions without hugely impacting performance. In contrast, heavy EGR does affect performance. Exhaust gases have already completed combustion, and circulating those gases back to the intake reduced the amount of oxygen in each cylinder, thus reducing the amount of fuel needed to achieve a good mixture and significantly reducing power.
Cummins realized this and announced a strategic shift to urea injection in August 2008. If anyone could have figured out EGR, it would’ve been Cummins. They’re the 800 pound gorilla of diesel engine manufacturers with a legacy of absolutely untouchable engineering. Go on Craigslist and look at what second-generation Dodge Rams with Cummins diesel engines are trading for. I’ll give you precisely 17 minutes to pop your eyeballs back in their sockets. Not only did Cummins start building engines with urea injection, they stopped building EGR-reliant engines altogether. You know how the nanosecond when you realized you messed something up in an irreparable manner seems to last forever? That’s where Navistar International was in 2008.
So what did Navistar International do? Hastily engineer engines with urea injection? Nope, the company doubled-down on EGR, a truly stupid move that would most certainly bite everyone involved in the ass. Navistar International decided to be flagrantly non-compliant, instead relying on amassed compliance credits to pay for fines, as reported by Transport Topics. In addition, Navistar International attempted to willfully deceive the EPA by claiming some engines were made in 2009 by using start-of-assembly dates instead of dates engines were actually assembled. Needless to say, the EPA was not pleased.
The EPA started coming down on Navistar with a $1,919 fine per non-compliant engine, which increased to $3,744 per engine in 2012. The EPA also launched a $300 million lawsuit against Navistar International in 2015, which was settled for a $52 million civil penalty, forfeit of Navistar International’s existing NOx credits, and a buyback program designed to prevent 10,000 tons of future NOx emissions. A large bill for an ailing company, although EPA wasn’t the only government agency coming down on Navistar International. In 2016, the SEC fined Navistar International to the tune of $7.5 million for misleading investors. All of these penalties came in the midst of immense consolidation which saw everything from a Reuters-reported poison pill strategy to prevent a hostile takeover by offering discounted stock to existing investors, to an NBC-reported layoff of 900 employees in Garland. TX., to a voluntary separation package deal reported by UPI and multiple other rounds of layoffs. Executives pulled their golden parachute cords left and right, from CEO Dan Ustian to vice president of product development Ramin Younessi. Things were uglier than a rotten hog carcass, and that’s before we even get into other litigation.
See, Navistar International’s advanced EGR systems didn’t just fail to meet EPA emissions standards, they failed to have any semblance of reliability. The MaxxForce engines are known pieces of shit, with failures that run the gamut from börked turbochargers to EGR cooler failures. Customers were angry, and rightly so. At least 14 class-action lawsuits were launched against Navistar International, one of which was approved for a $135 million settlement package in 2020, as reported by Transport Topics. Individual lawsuits were also launched, really inflicting extra pain on a company that truly deserves it. As for the fate of the MaxxForce engines? They were discontinued in favor of Cummins power units with urea injection. Funny, isn’t it?
With Navistar International bleeding cash, the company needed a savior. Who better than another company with its own history of awful diesel emissions decisions? Enter Volkswagen, or Volkswagen’s Traton SE commercial arm to be more specific. In 2017, the heavy vehicles arm of Volkswagen Group consisting of truck makers MAN, Scania, and Volkswagen Caminhões e Õnibus took a 16.6 percent stake in Navistar International before buying out all outstanding shares. In 2021, Navistar International announced through a press release that the company is now part of Traton SE, effectively passing the Scout name and legacy on to Volkswagen.
If I’m being honest, I’m pretty stoked on the prospects of a reborn Scout making it to market. Given how off-road-focused SUVs are typically ponderous and inefficient, an electric off-roader sounds like a ton of fun. A new Scout would also give Volkswagen a boost in America without diluting the Volkswagen brand. Sure, a new Iltis would be cool, but that nameplate has absolutely zero meaning to the general population. Volkswagen CFO Arno Antlitz added clarity to the official re-launch of the Scout brand official, quoted in a press release as saying “The company we establish this year will be a separate unit and brand within the Volkswagen Group to be managed independently.” Right on. If everything goes according to plan, expect to see a new Scout SUV and pickup truck in 2026.