DETROIT (Reuters) -- Volvo Car Corp. has chosen a site in South Carolina for a $500 million investment in its first U.S. plant, it said today, targeting a bigger share of the increasingly competitive North American premium market.
Work will begin this year on the factory in Berkeley County, with production due to start in 2018 and quickly reach 100,000 vehicles a year, Volvo said in a statement.
The investment is part of a drive by China's Geely, which bought Volvo from Ford in 2010, to rebuild a brand that ran into trouble in the financial crisis.
"This is a clear sign of commitment to the revival of our U.S. business," Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson said.
The move also coincides with toughening competition in the North American luxury car market.
Rivals have been ramping up capacity, with many choosing Mexico for its lower wages, non-unionized workforce and access to the U.S. and other export markets under a raft of free-trade deals.
In total, North American production capacity is set to rise more than 10 percent over five years to 19.6 million light vehicles in 2020, according to WardsAuto forecasts -- with most of the gain coming from new plant investments.
Germany's Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are among luxury carmakers that have recently announced new production capacity in the region. All three are adding plants in Mexico.
Under Geely's ownership, Volvo has stepped up model investments and added a pair of Chinese factories to its two older European plants in Belgium and Sweden.
In the U.S., where Volvo's sales fell 8 percent to 56,000 vehicles last year, the production investment is key to a medium-term pledge to return to 100,000 annual deliveries.
Volvo also faces tougher competition in the U.S. from the resurgent Lincoln and Cadillac brands, as parents Ford and General Motors, respectively, invest a combined $14.5 billion to revamp their lineups.
Samuelsson acknowledged the tougher U.S. market conditions, while maintaining that they would not thwart Volvo's plans. "We have a premium brand that is very different," he said.
Mexico was also on Volvo's initial "long list" but the choice for the new factory eventually whittled down to South Carolina and Georgia, he said.
Transport links including harbor access were among the decisive considerations that ultimately weighed in South Carolina's favor, according to the carmaker.
"Logistics was one of the most important factors" for a plant that will import large numbers of parts and export some vehicles, Samuelsson said, adding union representation was "not a relevant factor."
According to an environmental permit application filed for the Berkeley County site, the new factory will initially create 2,000 jobs.
Volvo declined to comment on longer-term production goals but said it ultimately planned to employ as many as 4,000 workers -- suggesting the initial 100,000 vehicle output could approximately double if sales ambitions are realized.