Monday, January 27, 2014

A Volvo Experience

Sidney test driving his own Volvo
I have always loved Volvos.  My trusty 1976 mint green Volvo station wagon saw me through high school and into college hauling me and too many of my friends from point A to B and back again.  The car wasn't fancy and was old and a bit rusty by the time I bought it but despite its ongoing quirks, strange noises, and static filled radio, it never failed me when it mattered the most.  So it was with great sadness that I turned her over to the Volvo graveyard but at that moment I vowed that someday I would own another one.  And now we do.

When we first moved overseas we made the decision to drive inexpensive used cars with the idea that we would buy a new Volvo before we returned to the United States.  When we realized that we would be staying in Europe for an additional three years, we decided to go ahead and buy a Volvo to drive for the remainder of our time in Europe. Utilizing the military sales program, we were able to customize our car down to the most minute detail then fly to Sweden to pick it up.  From the time we initiated contact with Lisa, our Volvo sales rep in England last fall, we've been going back and forth picking and choosing which options we wanted.  Model?  XC 70 D5 with a turbo diesel engine.  (When we visited Scandinavia two years ago, we drove this model as our rental car and knew this was exactly what we wanted). Color?  Twilight bronze.  Heated seats?  Of course!  How many bells and whistles?  All of them.  The process took awhile, so much so that Glenn began to casually mention Lisa in everyday conversations, but in the end all of the back and forth was well worth it because last week we picked up our car at the Volvo world headquarters.

But picking up the car was more than driving off in a new vehicle; it was a day long experience that despite my initial trepidation proved to be a great day for all of us.  Not only did Volvo send a driver to collect us and all of our copious piles of luggage at the airport, they picked us up the next morning from our hotel and brought us to their factory which was like a city unto itself. Like so much of Sweden, the showroom and factory were sleek and super modern.  (Talk about feeling like frumpy Americans).  After signing a few papers we were ushered into the delivery
All aboard for the factory tour
hall where we were introduced to our long awaited new vehicle.  I'm not a car buff but I must say that the car was beautiful. From the polished exterior and tripped out instrument panel to the leather interior emitting the often imitated but never replicated new car smell, the car was well worth the wait.  We were given a quick over view of the mechanics of the vehicle then took it for a brief test drive while we waited for lunch and the factory tour.  While we waited for our meal of Swedish meatballs (of course) Glenn sat in the vehicle and played with all of the car's high tech features and Sidney test drove the child sized Volvo cars that were in the children's waiting area.  Similar to visiting an IKEA store, the Volvo showroom had an entire area dedicated to the amusement and entertainment of children.

And then came the factory tour.  I'll admit, the prospect of touring a car factory didn't really excite me but I'm so glad we participated. Being boys, Glenn and Sidney were excited from the get go.  As Sidney said, he had never visited a factory before and he wanted to see all of the robots.  As we rode the little blue train we learned some interesting facts about the Volvo company.  First, the company was founded in 1927 with the intent of building cars study enough to withstand Sweden's poor road conditions.  In addition to passenger cars, Volvo manufactures trucks, tractors, and even airplanes.  The factory employees 3,300 employees working in two shifts.  The majority of Volvo vehicles are produced as customized orders with the United States, China, and Sweden being the largest markets.   Cars shipped to China have more leg space in the back seat than models destined for other countries since Chinese who can afford Volvos usually have chauffers and the car owners desire comfort.  Seven of the eight Volvo models currently being produced are built on the same platform meaning they can be built on the same assembly line.  And the list of facts could go on.....

I wasn't sure what to expect but the first thing that struck me was how big and clean the factory was.  In fact, it was immaculate.  It was also so big-- 358,281 square meters-- that we saw employees peddling bicycles throughout the factory as a means of moving from one end of the building to another.  This also meant that there were designated bicycle parking areas in select corners of the factory floor.  Yes, it was that big.  As our tram drove us up and down one aisle after another I was amazed at our automated so much of the production was.  Yes, there were people working on the ergonomically correct assembly lines but laser robots did the majority of the precision work.  We drove past row after row of doors, windows, engines, and side panels while car bodies were transported on the trams above our heads.  Sitting at the "marriage point" we observed the moment where frames and chassis met and became one.  I was most amazed, however by the diversity of cars that were being simultaneously produced.  Remember how I said that the majority of cars are customized?  On a single assembly line we saw several models each with different colors, configurations, and even right versus left drive models rolling along one after another.  I had envisioned a monotonous chain of the same car rolling out along the conveyor belt but instead I saw a diversity that is representative of the entire Volvo line of cars.  An electric right hand drive X60 might be produced between a diesel left hand drive XC90 followed by an S80.  Sidney may have been impressed by the number of robots--those were impressive too---and fork lifts he saw, but I was impressed by the entire production.

I am so glad we bought a Volvo and bought it the way we did.  Not only do we have a new car that I absolutely love but as Sidney says, we saw where our car was made.  How many people can say that?  So if you are in the market for a new car, go test drive a Volvo.  And if you have the chance, go to Sweden to pick it up.  You won't regret it.

Bundled up and braving the Swedish cold to pick up our new car

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