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With construction of its Berkeley County manufacturing campus more than 75 percent complete, Volvo Cars on Thursday said it will be the first U.S. automaker to use forklifts with lithium-ion batteries in its production process — part of the company's "green initiative."
"One of our core values is environmental and this fits right in there," said Katarina Fjording, Volvo's vice president of purchasing and manufacturing and the person in charge of building the $500 million plant off U.S. Interstate 26 near Ridgeville.
Fjording said the South Carolina factory — the carmaker's first to obtain "green building" certification — aims to be carbon neutral by 2025. The forklifts "are a small piece of that puzzle."
Volvo will be the only U.S. auto manufacturer to use forklifts powered by lithium-ion batteries, which are 30 percent more energy efficient than regular battery-powered models.
The forklifts will be made in nearby Summerville by KION North America, one of the world's largest suppliers of industrial trucks, forklifts and tow tractors. The company signed an agreement in January to supply material handling equipment for the Volvo plant.
Vincent Halma, president and CEO of KION North America, said the lithium-ion batteries will let Volvo operate the machines for up to 24 hours without a recharge. That will allow the forklifts to be used on multiple shifts
The lithium-ion batteries also charge about eight times faster than traditional batteries.
"It's more efficient, it's safer, there's no need for a charging room and no need to change batteries," Halma said. "It's the next generation of material handling power solutions."
The building structures at Volvo's 1,600-acre site, part of the Camp Hall Industrial Campus, are nearly complete, and the automaker now is installing interior machinery for the highly automated plant.
Volvo expects to produce its first newly redesigned S60 sedan for sale to the public about one year from now, Fjording said, adding the company will soon announce a second vehicle to me made in Berkeley County. That vehicle would not begin production until 2021.
"We are doing process installations now, which means robots are going in, and we're even trial running some of the processes," she said. "This past weekend, we fired up some of the robots — they were live."
By the start of 2018, the Lowcountry site will begin producing painted test vehicles as Volvo ramps up a production process that will make roughly 60,000 cars per year. About 60 percent of those vehicles will be exported through the Port of Charleston to foreign markets, with the rest to be sold domestically.
Volvo expects to hire about 2,000 employees to work two shifts by the time cars begin rolling off the assembly line for the public. The company has tentative plans to double its workforce in coming years depending on market conditions.
The local plant, first announced in 2015, would be capable of producing any vehicle made on Volvo's new automobile platform that debuted with the all-new XC90 SUV. The Berkeley County site also could build hybrids and autonomous versions of any vehicle produced there as the technology becomes available.In addition to the Berkeley County site, Volvo has production facilities in Sweden, China, Belgium and Malaysia.