President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan joined King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium on Tuesday for a visit to the Volvo Car Group facilities in Ghent, a city in northwest Belgium.
During their visit to the plant, the two couples were treated to a show of highlights from the Volvo product range: from the first-ever Volvo car, the V4 "Jakob", to current models and technologies like a Volvo plug-in hybrid and Ghent-produced models including one with a pedestrian airbag.
Joining them for the visit were Hakan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars, and Li Shufu, Volvo Cars' board chairman.
In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Michael Ning, vice-president of Volvo Cars China, who also was present, said a red Volvo car model was presented as a gift to each of the couples.
"We are very excited about Xi's visit and have been discussing how to receive him and his wife, Peng Liyuan, as well as the king and queen. The president witnessed the marking of Volvo's 5.5 millionth production in Ghent, and it also was the 300,000th car by Volvo for the China market," Ning said.
Volvo is a good showcase for China's cooperation with Europe, Ning said. It is a Swedish brand, a Chinese-owned company and has its presence in Belgium, he added.
According to the company, Volvo Cars is the third-largest industrial company in Belgium and employs about 5,000 people. The Ghent factory is Volvo's largest plant in Europe.
"We hope the president will feel at home," Ning said. "Our president will see all the three elements (Swedish, Chinese and Belgian) together making Volvo one of the known luxury car brands around the world".
Commenting on the visit, CEO Samuelsson said: "We are naturally deeply honored to have been able to welcome these distinguished guests to Volvo Cars' state-of-the-art facilities here in Ghent. The Ghent plant is an integral part of our manufacturing operations and a cornerstone of the company's future."
"Steady growth in the Chinese market is a major part of Volvo Cars' successful transformation plan, and the company has made tremendous progress in China in recent years," Samuelsson added.
In 2010, the European company was merged with Chinese auto company Geely Holding Group. Ning described the company's performance as "a very smooth transition from Ford to Geely".
According to Ning, Volvo delivered turnover profit growth in 2013 with global sales amounting to 427,840 vehicles. The company's long-term goal is to sell 800,000 cars a year globally, he added.
"China is a crucially important market. It almost replaced the United States as Volvo's largest market in 2013," Ning said.
"By investing and growing in China, Volvo Cars makes a positive contribution to the development of the Chinese economy. At the same time, growing demand in China for our cars supports Volvo jobs in Belgium and Sweden, making this a mutually beneficial relationship."
Volvo Cars Ghent, established in 1965, is one of the company's two European car plants.