Both Volvo Cars’ first and second fully electric vehicles are produced in Flanders. Does that give you a shock? It’s true! According to Volvo Car Gent CEO Stefan Fesser, Belgium’s northern region offers a unique combination of assets that convinced the Swedish car manufacturer to channel EUR 150 million into upgrading its existing site in Ghent. Turning Volvo Car Gent into a fully electrified production site, the investment earned the company a nomination for the 2022 Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy of Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT).
Volvo Cars’ Flanders-based production site is located at North Sea Port in Ghent. It comprises a welding plant, paint shop, final assembly and a battery factory. As the largest industrial employer in the province of East Flanders, the company’s Ghent site produced up to 183,000 cars in 2021, which were then mainly shipped to the UK, US, Germany, Sweden and Italy.
“Volvo Cars was the first big premium-car manufacturer to go fully electric,” begins Stefan Fesser, CEO at Volvo Car Gent. “We announced the start of our journey back in 2018. Other brands were still dedicating their attention to internal combustion when we shifted gears to electrification with Ghent as our pioneer plant.”
“It made sense to start off in Ghent, as this is where we produce our smaller ranges – and those were first on the list for electrification,” Stefan Fesser continues. “So, we invested heavily to revamp our Ghent site and move from an internal combustion build site to a fully electrified plant. That’s how both the first and second fully electric Volvo cars came to be manufactured in Flanders. In fact, our Ghent site serves as a pioneer within the group, sharing learnings with the other plants as we move forward.”
So why did Volvo Cars choose Flanders for its electrification experiment? “Simple: we have extremely skilled people here, and the site has a long tradition of expertise,” Stefan Fesser explains. “Business success always starts with having the right people on board: employees who are motivated, eager to upskill and tackle the transformation – from engineers to blue collars.”
The strategic location of Flanders was a major bonus. Stefan Fesser: “The region offers great logistics infrastructure, with easy access to major ports, railways and roads. Since it’s so easy to ship finished products from here and bring in the required resources, investing in our Ghent plant made a lot of sense."
“In addition, Flanders offers us the possibility to set up innovative and rewarding partnerships,” adds Stefan Fesser. “Pioneering new technologies and applications requires strong partners by your side. You can’t do it alone. Ghent University, for example, is one of our long-standing partners for internships, product development and engineering. But we also work closely with other institutions: incubators, research centers and even the city of Ghent. And of course, there’s our close collaboration with North Sea Port as well: it’s not just a port, it’s also a business hub and a platform for partnerships – especially for developing sustainable alternatives together.”
Volvo Cars has come a long way on its electrification journey, but the Swedish car manufacturer still has big ambitions for the future. Stefan Fesser: “We want to continue our leading role in electrification, both as one of the first plants to be fully electric and as a pre-existing site that has been transformed. Our goal on a group level is to be fully electrified by 2030 and climate neutral by the end of 2025, both in production and for our customers.”
“These ambitious goals will require us to continue Ghent’s leading role within this electrification journey,” Stefan Fesser concludes. “And that requires an equally ambitious and bigger team: that’s why we’re hiring another 500 employees in Flanders, mainly operators, supervisors and technicians. Exciting times ahead, that’s for sure!”