In June, Volvo announced the opening of its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Charleston, S.C., joining the company's two manufacturing plants and engine plant in Europe, three car factories and engine plant in China, and assembly plants in India and Malaysia. The new facility will create 1,500 jobs by year's end, with expectations for this number to eventually grow to 4,000.
Initially, the plant will build the all-new Volvo S60 for domestic and export markets. In 2021, the plant will begin building the next XC90 large SUV as well.
"The opening of our first American factory is a very big deal," said Anders Gustafsson, president and CEO of Volvo Car USA in a statement. "The new South Carolina facility will be a big asset to both Volvo Cars and the community."
But this story almost had a different beginning, and it starts in September 1973.
That's when Volvo spent $3.25 million to acquire more than 500 acres in Chesapeake, Va., announcing plans to build a $150 million automobile plant that would employ up to 4,000 people. To sweeten the deal, the state of Virginia built an exit off I-64, which ran nearby.
The Chesapeake plant would have been located near Ford Motor Company's Norfolk, Va. assembly plant, which had first built Model Ts in 1927. Like the Ford plant, which was shut down in 2006, the Volvo plant would be located near the Port of Virginia. Centrally located along the East Coast, the port's railway access allows a third of its cargo to arrive and depart by rail, the largest percentage of any East Coast port. Better yet, it takes ships just 2.5 hours to reach the open sea.
Ultimately, Volvo decided not to build the plant, although reasons remain unclear. Some have suggested that changing imported car regulations caused its cancellation, while contemporary news reports cited declining U.S. sales.
Instead, Volvo used the site for the preparing imported cars and trucks for sale. By 1983, Volvo built buses there, closing down the plant three years later and gradually selling the land.
Today, Volvo Parkway in the Greenbrier section of Chesapeake is all that remains of what could have been Volvo's U.S. manufacturing hub, one that now resides in Charleston.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.