At full capacity, the new plant will pump out 150,000 vehicles annually. About half its output is targeted for overseas markets.
"We will export as many cars from this factory as we will import into the U.S.," Samuelsson said. "This factory is a foundation for growth."
Volvo is following the German model of building export-oriented auto plants in the U.S. BMW exported about 70 percent of the 371,284 vehicles it built last year at its plant in Spartanburg, S.C. Mercedes-Benz is Alabama's top auto exporter, shipping about $5 billion in vehicles annually.
Making premium cars in the U.S. for export is smart, said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst with Autotrader.
"In the current political environment, having exports is probably a good idea, especially for a company owned by a Chinese parent," Krebs said, referring to Volvo. "The U.S. has become pretty competitive in terms of manufacturing."