By George Polgar

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The recent announcement that Volvo would invest $500 million in its first US plant in Berkeley County, SC, near Charleston, is the latest development in the emergence of the American South as one of the world’s leading centers for car, truck and aftermarket manufacturing.

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The Chinese owners of Volvo, Zhejiang Geely Holdings, lured by a package of $200 million in bonds, grants and energy subsidies, are building a plant capable of producing 100,000 cars a year and expected to employ some 4,000 people at full capacity.

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While the South Carolina investment is touted as a launch of the Volvo comeback from persistently lagging US sales, recent loosening of Chinese laws regarding foreign capital investments and a surge in US fast-track immigration programs may be at play.

Concerns that Chinese ownership would compromise the Volvo brand have not materialized in the 5 years since its purchase from Ford.

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A recent test-drive of the just updated Volvo V60 Wagon hit all the style, value and quality benchmarks for a $33,000 base to $48,000 loaded. An impressive new Drive-E powertrain delivers 25 city 37 highway EPA mileage stats, punctuating the Volvo value equation.