Why Volvo is China's Ticket to America

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Well, it finally happened. The Swedes and the Chinese came together to build a car for us ‘Mericans. The Detroit News reported last week that Volvo would export an extended-length S60 sedan called the S60 Inscription from a plant in Chengdu, a city in southwest China. Surprise, surprise: Volvo wants to sell about 5,000 of them per year in the U.S.

Related: 2015 Volvo S60 Review

Technically, this isn’t the first made-in-China car for the U.S. We’ve seen a few isolated projects, from Coda Automotive’s short-lived electric sedan to Uber’s Chicago test fleet of BYD electric cars. But if Volvo reaches anything close to those sales goals, it will dwarf the previous efforts.

The writing was on the wall as soon as Chinese automaker Geely bought Volvo from Ford in 2010. Chengdu, a city with more than 14 million residents, is where Volvo and Geely have a 3-year-old assembly plant.

Will Americans welcome a new wave of Chinese-built cars? Experts think so, provided there aren’t any quality glitches.

“Today you could survey 100 people, and I’m sure 99 of them would say they don’t know what actual country their car came from,” said Sam Fiorani, AutoForecast Solutions’ vice president of global vehicle forecasting. “Many electronics today are sourced from China. Many toys are sourced from China. Unless there’s a recall on it, most people don’t know or don’t care that it’s from China.”

Volvo will put a big effort into assuring consumers of that quality, according to The Detroit News. Every car from Chengdu will get five hours of track testing, and Volvo plans to tear one car apart every month to examine welding quality and more. That’s a lot more scrutiny than the automaker gives the cars it builds in Sweden and Belgium.

The S60 Inscription gets an additional 3 inches of backseat legroom versus the standard-length S60. That would give it more rear legroom than Volvo’s larger S80, though it still falls short of many full-size luxury sedans.

Volvo executives told The Detroit News that the move to Geely freed the automaker from years of shared Ford parts, and Geely reportedly keeps the meddling to a minimum. Two years after the purchase, Volvo said it would spend $11 billion of its own funding, not Geely’s, to create unique technology and manufacturing. That appears to be coming to fruition: In the coming weeks, Volvo will announce a location for its first passenger-car assembly plant in the U.S.

Fiorani suspects this is just the tip of the iceberg. Chinese automakers have been talking in earnest about entering the U.S. for nearly a decade, but the automotive quality has been spotty. Now, Volvo paves the way to eventually sell a Geely-branded vehicle here, even if the Swedes develop it.

“If they came in with, say, an entry-level Volvo as a Geely — under the Geely brand instead of Volvo — [we’d] have a two-tier brand,” Fiorani said. Chinese automakers have “acquired these Western companies for the technology and for market penetration, and Geely is [in] the best position because they have a full network of global dealers. They have distribution ready to go. All they have to do is have the product ready for Western Europe [and] for North America.”

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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