I’m writing this as Tricia catches a nap – she’s a little jet lagged. How jet-lagged? Well, she fell asleep in a tram while touring a car factory today. A very LOUD car factory. That, my friends, is jet-lag.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
It took us longer than we expected to get to Gothenburg. That’s because Tricia’s friendly travel agent (me) decided not to risk a short layover in Copenhagen. That added four hours sitting in an airport to the trip time. We arrived yesterday in a blinding, driven rain to discover that southern Sweden looks like (wait for it)…Portland, ME. Of course, we didn’t see much of the terrain because we arrived at about 1pm and it was already dark. OK, so I am exaggerating…but only a little.
In December, lights out is at about 3:30pm. And sunrise is about 8:15am. So, it’s a short day. However, today the rain ended and the sun came out. It was clear, brisk and cold – again, it was a lot like a nice winter day at home.
We got up early – for the first time in travel memory, I showered first so Tricia could sleep in another 30 minutes – had breakfast next to some Swedes complaining (in English, which everyone seems to speak) about their wives, their mothers-in-law, their teenage daughters– in fact just about everyone who’s female – and then were driven to the Volvo plant.
Before we get to the good stuff a word about Swedes: they’re tall (though not as tall as Finns, I think), many of them are blond and, among younger women, those that aren’t naturally blonde seem very much to want to be blonde, so there’s a plethora of platinum blondes walking around – something I suspect those practical Swedes think is useful. Is it that blonde hair reflecting more scarce light at night is desirable in a country with nearly perpetual darkness? Are blondes preferred so those guys from breakfast can find their women in the dark more easily? BTW, did I mention it gets dark early here?
[Update: Over dinner, Tricia mentioned that a woman sitting near us might be wearing a blonde wig. Later, we went for a walk, where, I kid you not, we saw these long, stringy blonde wigs for sale in the city’s megamall. I can’t believe the blonde envy thing going on here. Click the thumbnail to see these platinum fantasies full-size.]
Back to the narrative. Pelle from Volvo greeted us at precisely 8:15am and presented Tricia her car. The car is quite nice – and I breathed a sigh of relief after seeing the interior. We ordered, sight unseen, an interior that isn’t available on cars that dealers import into the US. I did it for two reasons. I couldn’t stand how monotone the US interiors are and it makes Tricia’s car a unique souvenir of this trip.
Tricia got to drive the car on the delivery center’s “test track,” which was a muddy stretch of earth about 700m in length. Volvo takes its history seriously — they claim one of the reasons the company was started in the 1920’s was to build cars that could take what were at the time poor paved roads in this country. So I suspect that even though highways here today are better than at home, this “test track” was built to demonstrate the spirit of the original Volvos.
After the test drive, we visited the Volvo Museum. There were some nice P1800’s in the collection. But what stood out is how the company’s history — and the depth of its collection — stops abruptly at about the year 2000. Why? It’s obvious — the company was nearly dead when Ford bought it in 1999 and today it’s the first major Western brand to be owned by a Chinese company nobody in the occident has ever heard of. As a monument to Swedish industrial prowess, the museum just couldn’t find a way to integrate its current history into the exhibition. I really looked hard for something that hinted at the company’s last 20 years; in fact I searched the entire museum. I found one reference to Ford (on a time line that stopped in 1999) and none — nothing at all — about Geely. The visit turned out to be a fascinating lesson in the power of museum curators.
Back to the delivery center for lunch — Swedish meatballs…surprised? — and then to the sleepy-time factory tour. I was disappointed because the stamping shop was idle. I wanted to Tricia to experience the earth-shaking pounding of floor-to-second-story metal presses stamping out car body parts. It’s my favorite part of a car factory tour because it’s the ultimate metaphor for a pounding headache — and the worst, I repeat worst, industrial job one could have. My heart goes out to people working in car stamping plants.
Anyway, Tricia must have known she got the quiet version of the tour and promptly fell asleep just as the Volvo tour guide got excited describing the marriage of body and powertrain. This was my second car factory tour and in the first one the tour guide was also hopped up over this “marriage” process.
I guess you just have to be there. But I don’t get why it’s so cool. It’s just another step in producing the car. In Volvo’s case, it’s done by robots; in the BMW plant I was in, it was being done by two mädchen who, at the time, looked marriageable. I assumed that in BMW plants, only young single women performed this task, so that’s why it is called “marriage.” However, it appears to be an industry term — and those Swedes have ruined the metaphor for me by using (German) robots.
After the tour, we came back to the hotel, where I sat in Tricia’s car until it got too cold (and dark. Have I mentioned that it gets dark early in December in Sweden?) reading the 400-plus page owner’s manual.
Tricia went to our room for a nap…and I as write this, she’s happily catching up on her sleep, counting white Volvos in her sleep.
BTW, here’s a little video of stills from our day. Looks like we had fun, doesn’t it? We sure did.
Having done both BMW and Volvo deliveries in Europe, I gotta say that Volvo’s program is better, with two exceptions. First, they gotta replace their US travel agent. Second, I’d trade the two free map updates in the US for a pre-load of Scandinavian maps when the car is delivered. I brought an old GPS I’d loaded with Scandinavian maps (you really need it), but using an add-on GPSs in a new car cheapens the experience.
Biggest, most pleasant surprise? Volvo delivers the car with a full tank of gas, something that costs a small fortune with petrol costing about 14kr/liter.