On Again, Off Again: Volvo Aims to Get South Carolina Plant Back in Gear, but Something's Missing
Is there a U.S. assembly plant that’s not currently producing a utility vehicle that doesn’t need one? Perhaps, but that doesn’t describe Volvo Cars’ Ridgeville, South Carolina facility, which builds the new-for-2019 S60 sedan.
A still-shiny plant situated near Charleston’s busy harbor that only opened a year prior to the S60’s launch, the facility shuttered itself in late March as the coronavirus swept into North America, reopening in early May before going idle again a month later. Volvo Cars’ boss aims to get production underway again soon, but there’s a problem.
“First is the disturbances in the supply of parts from Mexico. But it also a supply-and-demand issue for the S60. There is definitely is a market trend toward SUVs,” CEO Hakan Samuelsson told Automotive News Europe this week.
The aim is to get the facility up and running within “some” weeks, Samuelsson said, but issues remain in the Mexico-U.S. supply chain. The country to the south has curbed manufacturing output to some degree in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19 infections. In the state of Chihuahua, employee attendance is limited to just 50 percent of the normal complement — spelling headaches for certain domestic manufacturers.
Yet even if parts flow in from Mexico like they once used to, customers aren’t flowing into Volvo dealerships in search of a new sedan. U.S. customers purchased 17,526 S60s in 2019, but the first half of 2020 saw Volvo unload just 4,799 units. That’s a 43-percent decrease from the same period a year earlier.
While the pandemic can take responsibility for much of the slide, the public’s decreasing enthusiasm for any and all sedans can’t be ruled out as a causal factor. It’s not like inventory has entirely dried up. Luckily, the lonely S60 won’t have to remain in isolation for much longer.
“Charleston really needs an SUV, which we are planning to introduce in the second step in 2022 with the XC90,” Samuelsson said. “Then the factory will be fully utilized.”
The brand’s best-selling model by a significant margin, the XC90 saw its first-half sales drop only 13.3 percent, with June volume down barely half a percent. Worldwide, sedans sales account for 14 percent of Volvo’s sales volume, with SUVs gobbling up 69 percent of the pie.
[Images: Volvo Cars]
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Southern California resident here, and I echo the sentiments about rear A/C vents. Looking at used S60 last year, those B pillar vents were part of a package. I don’t recall if they were even available on the lowest S60 trim. Try driving a dark grey or black Volvo to Palm Springs this weekend when it is 105 to 110 degrees, and then decide if rear A/C is a luxury or a necessity.
S60 US sales had risen by 148% from 2018 to 2019, bucking the long term sedan decline. But now having trouble with Covid on the sales floor and with supplies from Mexico, plus the declining sedan market. S60 sales should recover next year to an acceptable level, but will probably never be on fire like Volvo's SUVs.