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Mass-market cars to SUVs, Volvo Torslanda plant still flexible at 40




Nestled among the open green meadows, pockets of woodland and forest and huge outcrops of untouched bedrock in Torslanda, Sweden, a remarkable automobile factory has stood for 40 years. From an annual capacity of 48,000 cars in 1963 to 160,000 cars in 2003, the Torslanda plant has become an integral factor in the success of Volvo Car Corporation.


In 1959, the Volvo manufacturing facility in Lundby was shared by the AB Volvo automobile, truck and bus production lines and had become over-crowded. The Lundby plant had been expanded during the second half of the 1950s, and there was no more space for additional capacity. The company’s executive management made a decision to build a new factory in Torslanda. The new location was ideal – it provided plenty of space, had an infrastructure already in place and was close to a bustling seaport. And so the Volvo Torslanda Plant was born.


When the entire facility, which at that time cost SEK 240 million (about C$44.7 million), was finished in spring 1964, 4.0 million square metres of land had been cleared to make way for the almost 200,000 square metres of factory floor space. Production capacity had been projected at 110,000 cars a year in single-shift operation, with the possibility of increasing to 150,000 cars in two-shift operation. The target of 200,000 cars in three shifts is only now on the verge of being achieved. The annual production record from 1973, when 178,000 cars left the factory, still stands.


On Friday, April 24, 1964, the plant was officially opened. That same day, production got under way in all three factory departments – the TA plant (press-shop/body production factory), the TB plant (paintshop) and the TC plant (final assembly). More than 2,000 invited guests attended the opening event, where Volvo’s President Gunnar Engellau offered thanks to the guest of honour, Doctor of Engineering Gustaf Larson, one of Volvo’s two founders. The other co-founder, Assar Gabrielsson, had passed away two years previously. Swedish king Gustaf VI Adolf officially opened the new factory.


The first car built in the Torslanda factory was the P120, or Amazon as it came to be called in Scandinavia. The first entirely new Volvo model to come out of the factory was the 144, which went into production in late summer of 1966. Today, the facility is responsible for the production of 90,000 Volvo XC90s with the S80, V70 and XC70 accounting for the remaining 80,000 units.


Since the XC90’s production start in autumn of 2002, two separate production lines in the body shop meet in a single station for finish and final inspection. Today, robots do almost 100 percent of all welding operations – which previously were carried out manually – and the noise level has dropped dramatically.


The paint shop, which was commissioned during the 1990s and was introduced as the environmentally cleanest in the automotive world, is still among the elite thanks to a well-thought-out process, carefully selected paint and a highly advanced air filtration system.


When it opened, the factory employed about 2,500 people but this figure rose quickly. For many years, the facility was Sweden’s largest single workplace, providing jobs for around 11,000 people. Over the years, streamlining, rationalization and restructuring plus focus on the QDE strategy (Quality, Delivery precision and Economy) has stabilized the workforce at about 5,000 people for the current capacity of 170,000 cars.


All automobile production ceased in Lundby in 1973. Since then, that plant has been owned and run by Volvo Trucks and Volvo Penta. Volvo Cars subsequently opened a completely new manufacturing facility in Ghent, Belgium, and built the first generation S40 and V40 at a plant in Born, Holland with NedCar (Netherlands Car B.V.).


Over the past few years, billions of Swedish kronor have been invested in the Torslanda plant to ensure long-term capacity of 230,000 cars a year while streamlining production and enhancing the flexibility of the systems. Volvo Cars’ strategy of utilizing the Torslanda facility as the centre for the larger models is a cornerstone of future development.


On 24 April, all Torslanda employees were served a piece of special birthday cake to celebrate the past 40 years and to focus attention on the forthcoming challenge: to build almost a quarter of a million Volvo cars a year efficiently, with the precision and the very highest quality that helped make the plant an institution in Sweden.




Doug Mepham


Facilities, Special Interests, Manufacturing
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