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Made in America: Volvo

Volvo Cars is a Swedish automaker based in Gothenburg, Sweden, the second largest city in that country and one of the larger cities in the entire Nordic region. The company has been building passenger cars since 1927 and has a rich heritage of building luxury performance cars as well as pioneering safety innovations like the first side-impact airbags, child booster and safety seats, 3-point seat-belts and whiplash protection seats in cars.

Even though they share the same logo and headquarters location, the truck builder Volvo AB is a different company. Since 2010, Volvo Cars has been majority owned by Geely, an international Chinese manufacturing company.

The idea of overseas companies building cars in the U.S. has been a reality since the 1980s with mainly Japanese companies paving the way — specifically Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Today, it’s common for European brands such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen to build some of their cars in America. Still, Volvo’s American manufacturing endeavor is fairly recent, officially opening a plant in the U.S. in the summer of 2018.

Where?

Volvo Cars’ first American manufacturing plant is near Charleston, South Carolina (specifically, rural Berkeley County). Volvo is investing more than one billion dollars and will eventually employ 4,000 workers. By 2019, staff will be around 1,500. Of the plant opening, President and CEO of Volvo Cars USA Anders Gustafsson said:

"Our U.S. business is developing very well, our cars have won prestigious awards, and the new South Carolina facility will be a big asset to both Volvo Cars and the community."

This is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect a CEO to say upon the opening of a new facility. Still, there’s a lot of truth there. First, the Volvo XC60 recently won World Car of the Year and Autotrader named the redesigned 2018 Volvo XC60 a Must Test Drive SUV for 2018.

In addition, Volvo’s Charleston facility includes a large office building for jobs in research and development, purchasing, quality control and sales — the kinds of jobs you might not normally associate with rural South Carolina. Still, there are other manufacturing businesses in the area, so skilled American works are plentiful.

What?

The Charleston plant can produce 150,000 cars per year and sits on 1,600 acres. Construction began in 2015. Early on, the Volvo S60 sedan will be built in South Carolina, but that will grow to include other vehicles, like the XC90, by 2021.

How?

The S60 sedan is based on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform. SPA is the basis for all of Volvo’s 90 and 60 series cars and SUVs like the XC90, S90, V90 Cross Country, V60 and XC60. Also, Volvo has said that all of their cars will have some form of electrification by 2019, so that will clearly be a part of the Charleston manufacturing process as well. Gustafsson said:

"The Charleston plant establishes the U.S. as our third home market. The sedan segment and the SPA platform’s proven ability to boost profitability offer significant growth opportunities for Volvo Cars in the U.S. and globally."

Eventually, the Charleston plant will produce cars and SUVs for both domestic and overseas markets. Volvo has plants in Europe, China and Malaysia. Essentially, Volvo will not only be building cars in the U.S. for American buyers, but American workers will be building certain Volvo model for global customers.

When asked if Volvo customers care where their cars are built, Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson said, "No, so long as the quality is what they expect from Volvo." He added that vehicles being built in American is certainly an advantage in many instances. Might that advantage be seen as more significant or important to American buyers? Probably. One thing is for sure, there are a lot of American workers in South Carolina that are proud to build some of the Volvo cars the U.S. and the rest of the world will drive.

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