Chairman Håkan Samuelsson
Chief Executive Officer
Volvo Car Group
Dear Chairman Samuelsson:
We read with interest the news this week that Volvo Cars intends to open its first-ever North American automobile manufacturing plant, and that sites in several undisclosed states are under active consideration for the $500 million factory, although it will be some months before a decision is announced. Volvo is still recovering from its disastrous acquisition by Ford in 1999 and we believe you and Volvo’s Chinese owners, Geely Holding, who bought the company from Ford in 2010, might find the road back to prosperity begins in Texas.
In the media coverage of Volvo’s exciting announcement you were quoted as saying, “Volvo Cars cannot claim to be a true global car maker without an industrial presence in the U.S.” Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and other competitors already have proven that to be true. American consumers appreciate the design and engineering of the best foreign automakers, but we prefer our vehicles manufactured by U.S. workers. It’s become fashionable for European automakers of late to focus on sites in the southeastern U.S., where Volvo has its American corporate headquarters. We think you should come take a good look at the Southwest.
Many of us are old enough to remember when the Volvos of the 1950s and 60s became cult cars on college campuses and then gave way to the square, sensible, and safe models that Volvo built into the 1990s, at the same time the Swedes developed many of the safety features we take for granted today: retractable seat belts, rear-facing child seats and more efficient air bags. Your brand struggled after its sale to Ford Motor Co. in 1999. The vehicles lost their distinctive profile, and were neither as luxurious as some, nor as fuel-efficient as others. Japanese and Korean cars became far more affordable. Chinese automakers got a bargain, paying Ford $1.8 billion for Volvo, far less than the $6.4 billion Ford paid a decade earlier.
Now the company is hitting the reset button.
Have you considered San Antonio? If so, congratulations. We belong on your short list. If not, let me make the case and extend a personal invitation to come visit the city. Bring your family, too. After a few days here, you might decide you’ve found a home for your new factory and your family might decide they’d like to have a home here. It’s that kind of city. More on our culture and charm later.
Let me make the case from a business perspective. Toyota opened its $1.2 billion truck manufacturing facility here in 2006 to produce the Tundra full-size pickup truck. It’s state-of-the-art plant incorporates all its suppliers, and the performance has been so successful, production of the Tacoma mid-sized truck was moved here, too, from Northern California. Toyota was attracted by the fast-growing Texas and Hispanic market, the availability of land (its campus is 2,000 acres with room for expansion), and $227 million in state and local incentive and subsidies. Within a few years it had won international recognition for the quality of the vehicles produced here and the advanced technologies and systems that made the San Antonio plant one of the most modern and efficient worldwide.
San Antonio has an abundance of large, undeveloped land parcels within miles of the urban core, a relatively easy commute for workers. We are one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, seventh largest on the U.S. Census list and the 25th largest MSA. People call San Antonio a “big city, small town.” We have lots of space.
We also have lots of affordable energy, with 400MW of solar power now under construction, the largest project of its kind in the nation. Our energy portfolio is well-diversified, coming from coal, nuclear, natural gas, solar and wind, all of it well-managed by CPS Energy, the largest municipal energy utility in the nation.
We also have a reliable supply of water. The San Antonio Water System is recognized nationally for its water management and conservation practices. Most of our water comes from the Edwards Aquifer, a source few cities can match. Our city’s civic and business leaders have undertaken long-term planning and investment to diversify our water sources as we look ahead to 2040 when we will be the fifth largest city in the country with one million more new residents. Brackish water desalination plants are under construction, regional water-sharing and conservation accords have been successfully negotiated, and per capita water consumption is among the lowest of any metro areas in the country, even though we live in the Southwest, where cyclical droughts are part of life. We know how to conserve.
Last October, the San Antonio City Council unanimously approved the landmark $3.4 billion SAWS-Vista Ridge water agreement that will deliver enough water to San Antonio to supply 170,000 homes for 30 years or more starting in 2019. The water purchase agreement with landowners in rural Burleson County 142 miles to the northeast will add 50,000 acre-feet to our annual water supply.
We are now looking for customers who can use that water to expand and diversify our economy. Volvo would be a perfect match.
San Antonio is two and half hours from the Mexican border where a vast network of vehicle manufacturing and suppliers are located. Interstate-35, which starts in the border city of Laredo and runs north through San Antonio, Austin and Dallas-Forth and then all the way to Canada, is the perfect artery connecting the three major trading partners.
The city’s leadership is well-aligned. Volvo would not have to negotiate its way through a maze of different entities and competing political interests. You won’t encounter bureaucratic roadblocks. Local and state leaders could produce a competitive bid package in relatively short order that would surely place us on equal footing with any other right-to-work state in the Southeast or Southwest U.S. Here in the state of Texas we know how to create jobs, and we know how to treat major employers and make them grateful they decided to locate here.
Those are the business reasons. It’s the people and the community that are our real strengths. Take a look at San Antonio today and you’ll get a good picture of what much of the rest of the country will look like some day. We are multicultural, bilingual, well-integrated and we celebrate diversity. We are a city deeply rooted in our own history that is visible in our historic Spanish Missions, now under consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We are a city of neighborhoods and families with ambiante familiar. Newcomers find it easy to become part of the social and cultural fabric. We are a community of open doors and open arms, big enough to offer world-class performing arts, museums and galleries, small enough to navigate by bicycle the urban core, the San Antonio River and creeks and trailways that course through the city. Our temperate climate allows us to live outdoors and with Fiesta, our annual Spring celebration only weeks away, you can come now see how we party. The scenic Texas Hill Country and Texas Gulf Coast are a few hours’ drive and easy weekend getaways.
For all our history, we have our feet firmly planted in the future with an economy that features major cloud computing and technology growth, a fast-growing cybersecurity sector, important bioscience and applied science research institutes, and universities that include national-class medical and dental schools and institutions offering culinary and arts degrees. Trinity University is one of the best private liberal arts small universities in the Southwest, and San Antonio is the only city with campuses in the University of Texas and the Texas A&M University systems.
San Antonio’s unofficial motto is, “City on the Rise.” We’re a Brain Gain city with a lot of smart workers and a lot more who want to move here if we can give them good jobs. The Rivard Report will be happy to spread the word if you need a little recruitment help.
Saving the best for last, we are home to the five-time world champion San Antonio Spurs. When players like George Gervin, David Robinson, Sean Elliott finished their careers, they stayed here and have continued to contribute off-court to making our city a special place.
So please accept our invitation to pay us a visit. Bring your team. Fiesta is April 16-26. The NBA playoffs will follow soon after. The city’s culinary and nightlife scene is exploding, from the Pearl to Southtown. The wildflowers will carpet our highways and pastures with vivid color for the next month or two. You’ll see a lot of San Antonians behind the wheels of Toyota Tundras and Tacomas. Start manufacturing ‘Made in San Antonio’ Volvos and you’ll see just as many of us buying the best of Swedish technology.
Why not San Antonio?
*Featured/top image: A new Volvo XC90 rolls off the line at a manufacturing plant in Torslanda, Sweden. Photo courtesy of Volvo.