Hakan Samuelsson had been a Volvo board member and a trucking executive when he became Volvo's CEO in October 2012, taking over a company with slumping U.S. sales and a dearth of fresh product.
Now, he says, Volvo executives have developed plans to hit 800,000 global sales by 2020, up from about 450,000 annually today. Samuelsson, 62, spoke with Automotive News TV Editor Tom Worobec last week in Detroit.
Q: You have been with Volvo now for about a year as CEO. What have you taken away after a year on the job?
A: It's been a very intense year. I've had the background -- that was very valuable, being in the board room for two years.
We were not growing any more; we had to reduce, so that was tough. Right now it feels that we are through that phase, and we are looking to get more positive in the future. We have stuck to long-range strategy and [in terms of] profitability we are better off right now.
One change was appointing Tony Nicolosi interim president of Volvo Cars of North America. What did you see in him that made you make that decision?
We need someone who understands the market, who is well integrated into the Volvo organization. Tony is absolutely the right guy to fulfill that. Also I am very impressed with what they have done here in the U.S. on the customer financing side. I mean, he created a new financing concept for us here, with partners.
I am quite sure with Tony that we have the right guy to bring Volvo forward in this market.
Nicolosi was named acting boss here. Could he perhaps have this job permanently?
He has the right qualities, and he's going to take this job up now 100 percent. There is no search going on for a replacement of him. He is now going to do this job, and he has the full support and confidence from us.
Can you talk about your strategy to right the ship in terms of U.S. sales?
We will have to do several things. We have had a team on board here for five weeks and come up with a comeback program together with Tony, which he will execute.
We have to look into additional cars. The first step will be in November and December; we will launch the V60. So we will bring back the [station wagon] to the U.S. market. That is very important.
Next year we will launch the XC90, which will be a big, big step.
We also have to be better in lease. I mean the market, if you like it or not, half of the market is lease. And last but not least, we have to make a message in the media arena that all these [products] are back. So we will invest next year twice the money in media compared with 2013 to really show that Volvo is back on the U.S. market.
You are in the midst of a change in your global advertising agency. Is it important for Volvo to remain true to its Scandinavian roots in its message to the American consumer?
Volvo has a very strong brand, and we have to really be careful preserving that. We should not try to reinvent the brand. It is a car that cares about you, its safety, its environmental performance. But we should also focus on attractive design.
We should go back to our old traditions, our Scandinavian attractive design, which has always included functionality, so Volvo should be full of clever solutions, should look attractive. It should care about you, it should deliver that safety that it always had done.
Now we need somebody who could really transmit this message globally, because we cannot have one image in one country and one image in another.
How does Volvo differentiate itself in safety in the years ahead?
We focus on real safety, it's not just fulfilling five stars or whatever. For example, asymmetric crash -- Volvo has very good safety performance in those situations.
But even more important for the future is active safety. For example, helping a distracted passenger in a traffic jam situation sitting maybe an hour a day, back and forth to the office, having some kind of autopilot system helping the driver in that situation, that's safety. So its not just the comfort device, autonomous drive; it will be a safety device.
How important is it to get the next-generation XC90 onto dealer lots?
The XC90 is a sort of icon. We want to come back in that segment, the big SUV segment, the seven-seater. There's a lot of big families in the U.S., and they need this car. We will deliver this car with a very high [fuel economy] because it will be very good engines in them, the new VI engines.
We will also for the top of the line [have] a plug-in concept -- combustion engine up front, electric engine back, near the rear axle, delivering close to 400 hp and including all-wheel drive. So that will be a very good high-tech alternative to a V-8 engine.
You brought former Volkswagen Group designer Thomas Ingenlath on board, and he talked about bringing more motion into Volvo automobiles. Is that important?
Yeah. Volvo is safety, as we have said, but why can't Volvos be attractive? Volvo also has to be better in "I want to have a car." I mean, you have to be proud of a car, you have to want to park it outside the garage instead of inside the garage.
What is your message to U.S. dealers? These have been tough times in terms of sales and product.
We are in the midst of the biggest transformation program ever, with Volvo investing in new vehicles. Unfortunately it will take some time before you see these vehicles, but we want to be open with them that this is coming, that we appreciate their patience.
We appreciate the job they have done in difficult times and we want them to follow us in the future. New vehicles will come; first step is V60, bring back the [station wagon], the Volvo core, to the market. We will have very good engines, and we will have a top of the line SUV that will launch next year.
We will offer them with new products the opportunity to be profitable in the future because that's our goal also.
Do you plan to compete with large, high-end cars such as the Mercedes S class in China?
We will not compete with equal [features] with them. We will not offer the V-8 engines, V-12 engines, but we will offer our twin-engine concept, which could be built into a sedan and that could be a very attractive sedan for the Chinese market.
Can you address your overall relationship with the folks at Geely right now? Where does it stand, and how do you see it moving forward?
Yes, they are most important -- a very stable owner for us. We have found stable ownership with them, and they are also governing or steering the company through a board. They are not interfering into details. As an M&A case, it couldn't have been better. Volvo is now owned by Geely -- there has been no turbulence, no people leaving the company. Our brand image has also not been jeopardized in any way.
So it's an excellent example of a new ownership. We are working with them in certain areas, mainly on the component area. There will be no dilution of the Volvo brand.
Geely will be a very distinct brand separated from Volvo, but in the new generation of small cars that we have seriously talked about we will see some common components.
There could be common rear axles, transmissions and also engines which will then give us higher production volumes and lower cost, but in no way compromising on the Volvo identity.
What is the biggest challenge Volvo faces?
Giving it a very stable premium position in the market. That requires some years to come. It requires new products.
But when it comes to performance and cost control, we have come one step forward. We are in a much more stable situation right now.