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Four Ways the South Carolina Automotive Industry Is Growing

The manufacturing sector within the southern United States is expanding, especially in South Carolina, where the automotive industry in particular is growing rapidly. According to the state Department of Commerce, the South Carolina automotive industry employs 74,000 people and has a $27 billion economic impact. From new automotive plants to new educational opportunities focused on the automotive sector, a lot of exciting changes are happening in the region.

Learn more about how South Carolina is becoming an automotive manufacturing hub that is helping to stimulate innovation in the industry.

Clemson University Introduces New Automotive Program

Clemson University, located in Clemson, South Carolina, has recently announced a new Bachelor of Science degree in automotive engineering. Clemson will be the first university in the country to offer this type of undergraduate degree. As automotive manufacturing transitions to focus on new technologies, such as autonomous driving and electric vehicles, this new program will train students to meet the shifting needs of the industry.

The undergraduate program will officially launch in Fall 2023. Students pursuing an automotive engineering degree will take part in a curriculum focusing on advanced design, development, and technical management of the vehicle realization process. The interdisciplinary curriculum will also include an experiential learning component, which will have students transition to the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) for their junior and senior undergraduate years.

The CU-ICAR hosts the university’s automotive engineering faculty and graduate program. This shift will provide automotive engineering undergraduate students with the opportunity to learn hands-on in the experiential facilities located at the CU-ICAR. Clemson’s automotive engineering bachelor’s degree program will help create a future workforce that will bolster the South Carolina automotive industry.

Volkswagen Building New Electric Vehicle Plant

Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Volkswagen (VW) recently announced its plans to build the new Scout Motors plant in South Carolina. Scout Motors is a newly acquired VW brand that will produce electric trucks and SUVs. The $2 billion factory will be capable of producing 200,000 electric vehicles per year.

VW will build the new plant on a 1,600-acre site that is just north of Columbia, South Carolina. Plans for the factory include employing 4,000 workers and beginning vehicle production in late 2026. The new plant will potentially also create thousands of new jobs for automotive suppliers within the region.

Scout Motors was acquired by VW in 2021, when the company purchased Navistar. The brand was first introduced in 1960 when it debuted an iconic SUV with a body style reminiscent of a Jeep. Scott Keogh, current president and CEO of Scout Motors, says the company plans to keep the original spirit of Scout for the new line of electric vehicles.

According to Keogh, Scout Motors decided to build a plant in South Carolina partly because of the state’s existing automotive industry infrastructure and its strong port in Charleston, located about two hours from the new site. With this new plant, VW will join the ranks of South Carolina’s automotive OEMs alongside BMW, Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz.

BMW’s Investment in South Carolina

Automotive OEM BMW opened its Spartanburg, South Carolina plant nearly 30 years ago. A recent study conducted by the University of South Carolina focuses on just how much BMW has done for the state since that factory opened. The study shows that in the past 30 years BMW has had a $26.7 billion economic impact and has created 43,000 jobs across the state.

Today, the Spartanburg plant employs 11,000 people, and BMW is a generous investor in local STEM and workforce development programs, as well as in schools, arts, parks, and charities within the state. BMW is continuing to invest in South Carolina with the development of a new electric battery facility in Woodruff. The company is also investing $1.7 billion into the Spartanburg plant to expand its capabilities to build six electric vehicle models at the site.

Additionally, 2022 marked the ninth consecutive year that BMW has led the U.S. in automotive exports. From the South Carolina plant alone, BMW exported 227,029 vehicles valued at almost $9.6 billion. In 2022, BMW produced 416,301 vehicles at the Spartanburg plant, which is the second-highest production total in the plant’s history. The BMW plant has helped to substantially grow the automotive industry in South Carolina, and it’s clear that its presence has had a significant impact on the region.

Redwood Materials’ New Electric Vehicle Battery Plant

Redwood Materials is currently building a new manufacturing facility near Charleston, South Carolina. This $3.5 billion factory will manufacture anode and cathode, which are components for automotive batteries for electric vehicles. The plant will manufacture these components out of recycled materials.

In an effort to be more environmentally friendly in its production operations, Redwood Materials’ operations at the new plant will be 100% electric and will only source clean energy with no emissions. This commitment, combined with an innovative manufacturing process, will allow the company to produce anode and cathode in a way that emits 80% less carbon dioxide compared to traditional manufacturing methods.

Redwood Materials’ investment will create 1,500 new jobs and is expected to produce enough battery component materials to power 1 million electric vehicles per year, though production capabilities could also be expanded if necessary. The company selected South Carolina for this new plant due to its proximity to automotive OEM factories and battery cell manufacturing plants. Not only is this an investment into the South Carolina automotive manufacturing industry, but also a contribution to more sustainable manufacturing in the state.

To learn more about the automotive industry in South Carolina and meet with automotive manufacturing companies in the Southeast region, attend SOUTHTEC.