The national character of auto brands is a tricky thing. For decades, Volvo wore its Swedishness on its sleeve, emphasizing the values that made Ikea, Abba and Swedish porn so popular in the US… even when it was an outpost of the Ford empire. And then the unthinkable happened: Chinese up-and-comer Li Shufu bought the brand and rolled it into his Geely empire. In the world of national-character-branding, being bought by a Chinese firm is something like hiring Casey Anthony as a brand ambassador, or using a mascot called “Mr Melamine Milk” (another nightmare scenario can be found here). So, how does a brand like Volvo, that was built on Swedishness, get past the “China Factor”? By doubling down on Swedishness? How about by building cars in the US?
Volvo’s Stephan Jacoby has opened the door to just that possibility, telling Bloomberg [via Automotive News [sub]]
One weakness of Volvo cars is the exposure to the U.S. dollar, so we are investigating increasing our sourcing in North America. The utmost solution would be to have a North American industrial footprint. We haven’t made up our mind.
OK, so currency exchange is the overriding business factor, but on a secondary level, building cars in the US would override any concerns American consumers might have about buying a made-in-China Volvo. For years now, the industry has fretted that the rise of Chinese automakers would be accompanied by waves of cheap, Chinese-built exports wiping out traditional brands on sheer cost alone. That Li and Jacoby are talking about building a US plant confirms that Chinese ascendancy need not follow the worst possible scenarios of industrial realpolitik. And as Sweden’s other automaker circles the drain, making Volvo a more global brand by assembling in Europe, China and the US is another triumph of reason over “automotive nationalism.”