I Visited Volvo’s First U.S. Factory… And Learned to Build a Car

Volvo Cars’ Makes History With First American Factory In South Carolina.
Myself during the assembly training session. Photo Credit: Volvo

My taste for luxury cars started early, so learning how they are built was a treat.

When I was a young girl, my Aunt J seemed to change cars with the seasons. She had great taste, so when she pulled up to our house in a brand new luxury car, I was always in awe. One that always stood out to me was her 1987 silver Volvo 740 sedan. At that time my mom had a “mom-mobile” station wagon, and we all know 80’s mom cars are nothing like today’s fully loaded, stylish family cars. So anytime I had an opportunity to ride in the 740’s passenger’s seat, I was there for it!

TOURING THE MERCEDES-BENZ FACTORY WHERE SOPHISTICATED, BEAUTIFUL CARS ARE BORN

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Volvo is Building Luxury Sedans, and Soon SUVs, For the First Time in the U.S.

Berkeley County, South Carolina, just north of Charleston, is now home of the first US Volvo Plant. The Swedish brand is putting down roots here by building the sleek and very sophisticated S60 premium mid-size sedan, which is the first car Volvo has ever made in the United States. Additionally, the brand has plans of adding the next-generation XC90 full-size SUV to the production line in 2021.

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Volvo Cars’ Makes History With First American Factory In South Carolina.

Operator working on the S60 Assembly Line. Photo: Dawn Gibson Thigpen

We Didn’t Just Tour the Plant, We Learned to Build a Car, Too! 

After a detailed safety briefing, our group participated in a team-building exercise. The exercise required us to speed walk around a makeshift track holding marshmallows that represented cars. Then we went to an assembly training session in a simulated work area. An equipment operator trained us to use an assembly gun and gave us a work list that provided step by step instructions on adding and tightening bolts to the S60.

Sounds easy right? Yes, but the catch is you have to do this in an allotted amount of time. If you were to get behind or discover a problem you are encouraged to pull the Andon Cord. When this cord is pulled it plays an instrumental theme chosen by each individual work station; it’s designed to notify management, maintenance, and other workers that there is an issue. When the cord is pulled the line stops and so a supervisor can address the issue. The first time I heard “Welcome To The Jungle” while touring the Volvo Plant I thought it was someone’s phone ring tone! ?

Volvo Cars’ Makes History With First American Factory In South Carolina.

Me along with two other journalist speed walking around the building. Photo: Volvo

When the operator started the hands-on training I was super motivated and ready to get started. As soon as it was my turn, I felt the anxiety coming on and two minutes into it I felt like Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory. I kept thinking “Oh man, I am glad this is a mock assembly line because if it were real I would definitely be fired!”

Then I thought about what I learned during the classroom session. Employees are not only encouraged to pull the Andon cord, they are also encouraged to offer suggestions to improve processes. After that, whenever there was an issue I didn’t hesitate to pull it, which seemed to be a lot! ?

Volvo Cars’ Makes History With First American Factory In South Carolina.

Another Journalist and myself during the assembly training session. Photo: Volvo

Volvo Makes History With First American Factory In South Carolina.

Me during the assembly training session. Photo: Volvo

Volvo Cars’ Makes History With First American Factory In South Carolina.

The infamous Andon Cord. Photo: Volvo

Volvo Cars’ Makes History With First American Factory In South Carolina.

The Crew (Journalist and Operators). Photo: Volvo

Let’s Get to Building!

After we completed the assembly training session, we headed over to the plant where the cars are actually built. And guess who helped build a Volvo S60? Me!

I worked with two different operators, who were both very nice, knowledgeable and patient.  I still can’t believe they trusted me enough for work on a rear axle. I am really proud of that moment!

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Volvo Cars’ Makes History With First American Factory In South Carolina.

Me observing the rear axle operator work his assigned machine. Photo: Volvo

Volvo Cars’ Makes History With First American Factory In South Carolina.

Rear axle operator hard at work. Photo: Volvo

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100,000 Volvos Will Be Built in the U.S. Each Year

Since breaking ground in Charleston in September of 2015, Volvo is on track to make 52,000 S60s a year with 1,500 employees on a shift. However, this will jump by 60,000 a year when they add a second line to build the larger XC90 crossover.

And in coming to America the brand has done amazing things for the community, adding jobs not just at the plant, but to local suppliers, transportation and more. The state stepped up to help with training programs for those interested in learning auto manufacturing; to ensure a qualified local workforce exists, the state’s college system created a compressed 62-hour manufacturing program. This will provide workers with the equivalent of a year’s manufacturing experience.

Which will be a great thing, I learned. The assembly process is not as easy as you might think, and a top luxury brand can have only so many Lucy and Ethel moments.

Disclosure: I was Volvo’s guest for this visit to the assembly plant; travel and accommodations were provided. All opinions are my own. 

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Volvo Cars Makes History With First American Factory In South Carolina.

Dawn is a sassy South Florida lifestyle influencer with a love for travel, music and stylish/sleek cars. Additionally, she... More about Dawn Thigpen

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