The Chinese-owned Swedish brand's first U.S. assembly plant, which is about to launch into production of the next-generation S60 sedan , will gain a second exclusive product in the form of the next-gen XC90.

As the priciest vehicle bearing a Volvo Cars badge, the XC90 remains a huge part of the brand's - presence and profits - in the United States. And, when sole production of the model comes to the Southeast factory in just three years, workers will be tasked with building a model capable of Level 4 autonomy and all-electric driving. It'll be a challenge, Volvo's CEO says, but it's necessary.

The automaker hopes to export as many Volvos built at the new plant, located near Charleston, as it builds for U.S. consumers. That's about 150,000 vehicles a year.

"The U.S. is the biggest market for the XC90, so it's natural to start there," Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson told Automotive News last week at a grand opening event last week. "We need a second car for the factory."

Samuelsson acknowledged the fairly tight time frame for the new XC90 and the fact that automaker's U.S. division must have suppliers and employees in place well before the SUV's scheduled to begin production. Assembly begins in 2021, and Volvo's the new kid on the block.

"It's a challenge," Samuelsson admitted. "We need to be a global company, we need to master that."

The presence of other premium automakers in the region means a pool of available talent. Mercedes-Benz and BMW already assembly vehicles in South Carolina and local suppliers could be of use to this European manufacturer.

The upcoming XC90 will ride atop a second-generation version of the brand's Scalable Product Architecture, called SPA 2. At the plant opening - where Volvo displayed the 2019 S60 - both Samuelsson and R&D boss Henrik Green said the next XC90 would arrive with an available battery electric powertrain. That adds complexity to the supply chain, if not the vehicle. Speaking of complex, drivers of the XC90 might be able to hand over driving duties to the vehicle in certain situations, assuming they paid for the optional Highway Pilot system.

The Level 4 system, which uses lidar to see ahead of the vehicle, would only be functional on highways mapped for its use, though it's still a question mark as to whether U.S. lawmakers will approve its use on American roads.
In May, Volvo XC90 sales in the U.S. rose 30.1 percent, year over year, with volume over the first five months of 2018 up 37.3 percent.

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