UDDEVALLA, Sweden - AutoNova will maximize its production of Volvo C70 convertibles next year, according to the company's new managing director, Mike Flewitt.
'Building convertibles is more complex and takes more time,' said Flewitt, 36, who until
September ran the Rolls-Royce plant in Crewe, UK. 'But the market - in the USA in particular - can handle as many convertibles as we can make.'
AutoNova is jointly owned by Volvo Car Corp. (49 percent) and TWR Group of the UK (51 percent). The Skr1.7 billion ($224 million) venture was formed in 1995. It makes the Volvo C70 coupe and convertible.
In 1998, AutoNova will build about 11,000 cars - 10,000 of them coupes. But next year the production emphasis will shift. Of the planned output of 15,000 units, two-thirds will be convertibles.
In the past, AutoNova has suffered from production problems. It started C70 production in 1997, but only managed to build 99 units in a nine-month period.
The AutoNova plant formerly served as a final assembly plant for Volvo and has a low level of automation. There are only 16 robots, 14 of them used for welding in the body shop. Final assembly is done manually by small teams.
Only one-third of its 1,000-person staff has previous car industry experience.
'It is difficult to find qualified workers,' said Flewitt. 'We may have to look abroad for people.'
Production of the convertible, in particular, was delayed due to problems in parts fitting and systems functions.
'More automation would require too much investment for our low volumes,' Flewitt said. 'But we have the advantage of better flexibility at the price of slightly higher unit costs.'
Majority owner TWR is 'very much in the picture and very happy with AutoNova,' according to Flewitt. Both TWR and Volvo have trained AutoNova staff.
Flewitt joined AutoNova in September after two years as director of production at the Rolls-Royce factory. He started as an apprentice on the production line at Ford's Halewood plant 17 years ago. Flewitt stayed with Ford for 13 years, becoming foreman for final assembly and manager of press and body shops.
He then joined Rolls-Royce, working on the BMW-engined Silver Seraph and Bentley Arnage. Flewitt said he was offered the AutoNova job because of his experience in both large and small volume production.
Flewitt left his home town of Liverpool, UK, to join AutoNova. He has a house in Uddevalla and is learning Swedish. As a production man, he intends to spend plenty of time on the factory floor - the part of the job he knows best. His new position will also require him to handle business administration, but marketing of the C70 models will remain Volvo's responsibility.
'I want to feel at home here and have made up my mind to make AutoNova a success,' Flewitt said. 'We have a good factory and a great car. I also want to take part in the life of my new home town.'
Flewitt compares AutoNova with niche companies such as Karmann, Valmet, Pininfarina and Bertone. AutoNova is free to take on other business, although at the moment 'Volvo is both our main supplier and our only customer,' Flewitt said.
Volvo executives are reported to be thinking about adding another vehicle to the AutoNova plant, now that its production problems seem largely to have been solved.
Flewitt sees extra capacity at AutoNova being used for the production of low volume niche vehicles, not mainstream models such as Volvo's S40/V40 series.