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Volvo Cars has started exporting its South Carolina-made S60 sedan to foreign countries through the Port of Charleston. File

Volvo Cars has started sending its South Carolina-made S60 sedans to foreign countries, with the first cargo ship containing the vehicles leaving the Port of Charleston over the weekend.

The cars, built at Volvo's $1.1 billion manufacturing campus near Ridgeville, were shipped out Saturday from the Columbus Street Terminal. They are scheduled to arrive at the Port of Zeebrugge in Belgium on Feb. 26.

They are traveling on the Horizon Highway vessel operated by the K-Line shipping line.

Sales of Volvo cars in Belgium were up about 12 percent last year, nearly double European growth as a whole to put the automaker at No. 11 on the country's list of top vehicle brands.

The redesigned S60 accounted for nearly one-fourth of Volvo's U.S. sales in January as customers bought 1,348 of the sedans last month. Those sales helped Volvo notch a 5.2 percent year-over-year sales increase in this country.

"In the European market and the U.S. market we don't see any clear signs of a downturn so far," Hakan Samuelsson, Volvo's CEO, told CNBC.

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Volvo — based in Sweden and owned by China's Geely Holding Group — started producing S60s for U.S. distribution in September and plans to build about 50,000 sedans this year.

That number will triple by the time Volvo adds its XC90 SUV to the plant's production line in 2021. About half of the vehicles made at the Ridgeville campus will be exported to foreign countries, and Volvo plans to hire 4,000 workers at the site at full production.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_