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8 Mar 18

Håkan Samuelsson, CEO Volvo: “Volvo needs battery partner, does not exclude anyone”

Just 30 minutes before Håkan Samuelsson was named World Car Person of the Year, Fleet Europe spoke with Volvo Car Group’s CEO during a round-table discussion at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. We met a proud, open and down-to-earth Swede, accompanied for the occasion by Dutchman Lex Kerssemakers, SVP EMEA and Global Commercial Operations. 

The XC40 has been named European Car of the Year. How do you expect this will impact the model’s success?
LK: “It is the first time ever we win Car of the Year and it is very difficult to quantify what it brings. This goes beyond being COTY. This reflects what Volvo stands for today. It is the first car developed on a new platform in cooperation with Geely and Lynk & Co, and it also reflects an intense cooperation within a very short period. You can imagine we are extremely proud and the expectations are really high.”

Will you be able to keep up your growth momentum?
LK: “In the past, Volvo’s growth has been limited by the production capacity. That will be the same challenge for the XC40. It is built in Ghent, Belgium, where we will be expanding our production output, and by the end of this year we well start production in China as well, mainly for the local market, but probably for export as well, as is the case with the S90 and the current S60.”

What’s the secret of your success?
HS: “First of all, we have highly motivated, energized and qualified people. Second, we were bold enough to believe in a radical renovation programme for our products. Also, we have transformed from a car exporter into a truly global company with an industrial footprint on several continents. We have a factory in China and are currently building one in the U.S. Finally, we are a brand with values that are very close to what is happening in society. Volvo is not about having as much horsepower or as much technology as possible. It’s about protecting what is important.”

How important is the size factor?
LK: “We are still a relatively small company, with a Swedish culture, meaning the organisation is relatively flat. Once a decision is taken at the top, the execution follows very fast. It is also a no-nonsense company. We try not to waste too much time with things that are not really relevant.”

In view of the massive electrification of the line-up, would it make sense for Volvo to invest in battery production facilities?
H.S. “If you mean individual cells, I believe we will always source those externally, as we do not really have the chemical know how, so to speak. Building the cells into battery modules, that is something we are focusing on. Packing the cells, adding the cooling and the charging management software, that is going to be core competence for us. We are investing in this area, but we need partners for the cells and we need much more capacity.”

Are you reaching out to Mercedes-Benz now that your parent company’s chairman, Li Shufu, has become a major shareholder of Daimler?   
HS: “Daimler and Volvo Cars are competitors and we will continue to be so. Cooperation is restricted by anti-trust legislation. But let’s see. We are ready to cooperate with anybody if it is in our interest. In areas like battery technology we need partners and I wouldn’t exclude anyone.”

How fast do you expect your sales to ‘electrify’?

HS: “By 2025, half of the vehicles we sell will probably be purely electric, and the other half will be petrol engines assisted by an electric motor. Looking at today’s sales, 10 to 15 percent of our SPA platform vehicles, i.e. XC60, S90, V90 and XC90, are plug-in hybrids, which is quite good. That is likely to go up to 25 percent by 2020, which will help us to bring our fleet average down to 95 g/km as required by the EU. After 2020, we will be introducing all-electric cars to further reduce our fleet’s CO2 emissions.”

Will the electric range of your plug-in hybrids improve over the next years?
HS: “The range of our Twin Engine models today is about 50 km and that will remain the same. Our mild hybrids, which you cannot plug in, will be merely recuperating brake energy. For a really long electric range we believe it is better to directly go for a battery-electric car. In other words: we won’t be enhancing the electric range of our plug-in hybrids.”

Authored by: Dieter Quartier