Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson is more convinced than ever that the Geely-owned automaker needs to capitalize on the disruptive movements taking place in the industry. Volvo aims to use its small size, compared with BMW or Mercedes-Benz, to generate half its global sales from full-electric cars by 2025 and have one-third of the cars it sells to be fully autonomous by then. A more immediate goal in Samuelsson's sights is to break the automaker's worldwide vehicle sales record for a sixth straight year. He discussed this and more with Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc
Is Volvo on track to sell 700,000 cars this year?
It's absolutely achievable this year and our ambition is to reach 800,000 next year. We have always said that when we reach that [800,000 units] we should also be as profitable as our premium colleagues, which means a margin of about 8 percent [by then]. We are on the way because we have never had such a strong product offering.
Your German premium rivals are trying to save money through cost cuts. Does Volvo need to take any steps such as reducing staff?
Yes, but it will mainly be consultants. We have been reducing their numbers and squeezing them a bit harder. In addition, we are more frequently asking why we can't do a task or a project ourselves. We are also going to be more restrictive when it comes to hiring.
Could you share any figures on your planned cuts?
We have the numbers but we haven't communicated them externally, and we don't plan to because it could give the impression that we have to rely on cost cuts to achieve our strategy. That is not the case. Our success is coming from excellent cars, which hopefully will slowly convince people that we are an interesting alternative.
The industry is moving quickly toward making cars electric and autonomous. You have said that Volvo should be at the forefront of this shift. How is Volvo doing in reaching this goal?
We are more convinced than ever that being at the forefront of these so-called disruptive movements is crucial. As a small company making this shift will help us achieve our goal of becoming more premium and being more relevant in the global arena. If we don't do this then we would be following what others are doing -- or have already done. Disruption or change is a huge opportunity for a small company.
Is it easier for a company of Volvo's size to achieve this transition compared with larger rivals?
If you are a big company you might see all of these changes as threats, but we see them as an opportunity. With that as the base, I will probably never be satisfied with how fast we are moving. I would like to see us move faster but it is also important to bring the entire organization with you. That is often the challenge. There are internal forces that want to operate as you always have, so it is a challenge to get them to go along with the change. But that is what we have to do.
What about the ongoing move toward offering self-driving cars?
When it comes to that it is a bit more challenging technically than we originally thought. But we are still convinced our next-generation cars should have what we call a Highway Pilot [which takes control of the car on a highway]. We will be very careful to avoid bringing out something that is perceived to be automated and it's not, but the driver is impressed with what he can do with the system and then overestimates the capabilities. We really want to deliver something that is as safe or even safer than the impression you get. That will come, first for usage on the highway.