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Volvo idles new SC plant over Hurricane Florence fears

Mercedes-Benz has also idled its new Sprinter van plant amidst storm preparations.

Volvo

Volvo's brand-new car plant in Charleston, South Carolina, only held its official opening ceremony in mid-June, and already, it's going idle. The factory, which makes the company's new-for-2019 S60 sedan, is being halted because of Hurricane Florence.

An evacuation order is in place for the Category Four storm in Charleston, Dorchester and Berkley counties, the latter of which is home to the plant. According to reports, Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall Thursday evening or early Friday. As of this writing, the storm is tracking toward Charleston and Norfolk, VA. Over one million residents have been ordered to evacuate affected areas, with the powerful storm presently packing winds of up to 140 mph.

Volvo's sharp new S60 sedan will be eventualy joined by XC90 production in SC.

Volvo

Volvo estimates that its Charleston plant will eventually be capable of building up to 100,000 cars per year, employing 2,000 people over the next decade -- twice that number over the long term. The Chinese-owned Swedish marque plans to add production of its XC90 flagship SUV to the plant beginning in 2021.

According to Dean Shaw, Volvo's vice president of communications, the Charleston plant only began assembling new S60 models about two weeks ago. Shaw estimates that about 1,000 employees have been working at the plant as production ramps up. 

Despite being a brand-new facility, Volvo is already familiar with weather-related stoppages in Charleston: "To be honest, it's something we've done several times over the last year or two with various storms," Case told Roadshow. However, previous incidents all happened during construction of the plant, not while it has been operational.

Of course, Volvo isn't the only automaker's Southern plant that could be affected by Hurricane Florence. Mercedes-Benz's South Charleston Sprinter van factory is actually newer than Volvo's plant, having only opened for business earlier this month. 

According to Bloomberg, like Volvo, Mercedes' parent company, Daimler, has suspended operations at the van plant beginning Tuesday due to the hurricane. 

BMW's Spartanburg, SC plant, which produces the company's popular X3, X4, X5 and X6 SUVs, is also on Florence watch, though its plant is hundreds of miles inland. According to a Roadshow source, BMW is monitoring the storm on an hourly basis, but does not anticipate idling its plant due to Florence.

While BMW expects to keep its factory open, our source did express concern over the possible closure of coastal shipping ports that are important to its factory's operations. If the ports close, it's possible that production could be belatedly impacted, either because of a backlog of completed vehicles awaiting export or due to related part-supplier issues.

First published Sept. 11, 7:38 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:24 a.m. PT: Adds information with Mercedes and BMW plant statuses.