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From mass-market cars to niche Sports Utility Vehicles - The Volvo Torslanda Plant turns 40



Increased capacity – for ever-higher quality. The 40-year-old motto is still valid. From an annual capacity of 48,000 cars the first year to 160,000 cars in 2003, the Torslanda plant has become one of the central components in the machinery that has helped the Volvo Car Corporation become a global company. On 24 April, the Torslanda plant turns 40.


Where fields of corn once swayed in the wind and cows grazed placidly, a car factory has stood now for 40 years. However, the rural idyll has not been eclipsed by the industrial complex. Because the fact is that there is still considerable agricultural land in everyday use here and there among the various buildings, although the cows themselves are long gone.
Driving around here, it’s hard to imagine that this is the very heartland of the Swedish motor industry, since there are open green meadows, pockets of woodland and forest, and huge outcrops of untouched bedrock rearing out of the ground everywhere.


Success required expansion
The decision to build a new car factory was taken back in 1959. That year, Volvo made 78,000 cars in its already too congested premises in Lundby, located further in towards the island of Hisingen’s central section, where the facilities were shared with truck and bus production lines.
The huge expansion during the second half of the 1950s had made it clear to Volvo’s executive management that a new factory was not just a good idea, but absolutely essential if the company was to be able to continue expanding in the future. Exports to North America had begun to take off and sales improved steadily.


Volvo’s new factory came to be located in a rural setting because this area had long been earmarked by the city planners for future industrial use. In the area around the company’s Lundby premises, there was simply no space for a giant new facility.
In Torslanda, on the other hand, there was plenty of space; the infrastructure was already being put into place, the bustling port and the open sea were just around the corner and at that time, the city of Göteborg’s airport was also located in Torslanda. The site was ideal from the industrial and transport viewpoints. And so the Volvo Torslanda Plant was born.


When the entire facility, which at that time cost SEK 240 million, was finished in spring 1964, four million square metres of land had been cleared to make way for the almost 200,000 square metres of factory floorspace. Production capacity had been set at 110,000 cars a year in single-shift operation, with the possibility of increasing to 150,000 cars in two-shift operation. The future 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 holds.


Royal inauguration
On Friday 24 April 1964, the plant was inaugurated and already 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).
Several celebrities were present among the 2000 specially invited guests, and Volvo’s President Gunnar Engellau gave a robust and emotional speech, in which he first and foremost 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. Following that, Swedish king Gustaf VI Adolf inaugurated the new factory,
After lunch, which was served in the bodyshop, there was a trip around the premises. The main guests were taken around the factory in a 1927 Volvo ÖV4 and were able to study production at several strategic points along the way.


An excerpt from Gunnar Engellau’s speech:
“It took 23 years to make the first 100,000 Volvo cars, which is less than we now make in a single year. However, it was a more impressive feat for Messers Gabrielsson and Larson to make and sell those first 100,000 cars in 23 years than it is for us to make the same quantity in one year.
“We are continuing to build on the foundations they created. Those of us who followed in their footsteps adopted two of their main principles: Never to spare any effort to ensure that our cars are as good as possible, and to always be prepared for a steady increase in production volumes.”


Amazon first out of the factory gates
The first car to be built in the Torslanda factory was the P120, or Amazon as it came to be called in Scandinavia. The long-serving PV544 did admittedly undergo final adjustments in Torslanda but it was never built there. The first entirely new Volvo model to come out of the Torslanda factory was the 144, which was launched into production in late summer 1966.


Production inside and outside Sweden
All car production ceased in Lundby in 1973 with the phasing-out of the Volvo 1800ES. Since then, the premises have been owned and run by Volvo Trucks and Volvo Penta. However, the Torslanda plant was not Volvo’s first facility outside the Lundby complex. Some assembly operations had taken place on a couple of small markets under the auspices of various importers during the 1950s, but already in 1963, Volvo became the first European car maker to produce cars in North America. This took place in a factory in Nova Scotia in Canada, and it formed the basis for what in 1967 resulted in Volvo’s own factory in Halifax.
By then, another major production plant for Volvo cars – the one in Ghent, Belgium – had already been operational for two years. In 1965, Volvo started building cars in its own Belgian factory with the aim of producing cars within what were then the borders of the European Common Market. Today, 39 years later, the Ghent factory has the largest capacity of all Volvo Cars’ plants – 250,000 cars a year.


Capacity and quality – keywords then, keywords today
At its inauguration, the Volvo Torslanda factory employed about 2500 people but this figure rose quickly. For many years, this was Sweden’s largest single workplace, providing jobs for something in the region of 11,000 people. Over the years, streamlining, rationalisation and restructuring – including firm focus on the QDE strategy (Quality, Delivery precision and Economy) – have meant that the current capacity of 170,000 cars can be handled by a workforce of about 5000.


Today’s production volume of about 170,000 cars is shared between 90,000 Volvo XC90s with the S80, V70 and XC70 accounting for the remaining 80,000.
Since the XC90’s production start in autumn 2002, there are two separate production lines in the bodyshop that both end up 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 paintshop, which was commissioned during the 1990s and was then the cleanest in the automotive world, is still among the elite thanks to a well-thought-out process concept, carefully selected paint and a highly advanced filtration plant.


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 at the same time streamlining and enhancing the flexibility of the production systems. Volvo Cars’ strategy of two main factories, with the Torslanda facility remaining the centre for the larger models, is a cornerstone of future development.


On 24 April, all VCT employees will be served a piece of special birthday cake to celebrate the past 40 years and at the same time to focus attention on the forthcoming challenge: to build almost a quarter of a million Volvo cars a year. Efficiently, with precision and with the very highest quality. Or as the motto says: Increased capacity – for ever-higher quality.



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