Volvo long toyed with building cars in this country before announcing last week that it had chosen a site in South Carolina for its first U.S. plant.
In fact, construction of a plant in Chesapeake, Va., had already begun in the mid-1970s before a downturn in the economy forced Volvo to pull the plug.
In 1987, with the dollar plunging against European currencies, Volvo Chairman Pehr Gyllenhammar told Automotive News that a U.S. assembly plant was possible. It didn’t happen, of course. At the time, Volvo was selling over 100,000 cars in the United States — more than Mercedes or BMW or Audi. But that wasn’t deemed enough for Volvo to pull the trigger and build a factory.
In 1996, the company again contemplated a U.S. assembly plant. The Swedes in Gothenburg were receiving lots of delegations from Southern states hoping to land the factory. Volvo also later considered using space at Mitsubishi’s plant in Normal, Ill., or excess Ford capacity in the U.S, since Volvo had just been acquired by Ford Motor Co.
Volvo was selling twice as many vehicles in the U.S. as it does now, but it still wasn’t considered enough volume to justify a plant.
Fast forward 16 years. Volvo, now owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely, ranks fifth among European prestige marques in the United States, with sales of just 56,000 last year. But no matter, the factory is finally a go.