Candid Comments from Volvo’s new CEO Samuelsson at Detroit Auto Show

Hakan Samuelsson, the new Volvo CEO, at his first Detroit auto show looked more like Volvo’s chief designer –tieless, sport jacket, casual pants, easygoing manner.

He was on Volvo’s board for two years before replacing Stefan Jacoby as CEO, but with only four months into his new job, the 61-year-old Swede was asking as many questions as he answered. “It’s easier to just give great advice,” he says with a smile.Samuelsson’s last job was CEO of the German truckmaker MAN. He came up through the ranks of Sweden’s Scania as a factory and purchasing specialist.

It astounds Samuelsson that a decade or so ago Volvo outsold BMW. Mercedes-Benz and Audi in the United States.

What happened?

“I think maybe the beancounters got too much control,” he said, an apparent reference to Volvo’s days as a Ford subsidiary.

“I’m not really a car guy,” he says.

Still, he has a pretty good feel of the Volvo brand. He would somewhat like to bring a station wagon, once a Volvo staple, back into the fold, and he thinks a crossover below the XC60 is a pretty solid idea. However he isn’t in favor of a big luxury sedan — said to be top of mind at Geely, Volvo’s Chinese owner.

What’s Samuelson’s gameplan for the brand?

“Safety, styling and functionality,” where he would enjoy hitting the reset button on all three, he says.

“Volvo has always been known for functionality,” he adds.

Mercedes, BMW and Audi have had issues with ease-of-use on its center stack, so Samuelson sees an opportunity for Volvo to make up ground against its German rivals.

He said, “We’re not going to beat them with luxury cars.”

Samuelsson is not keen on a North American factory for Volvo at this time, but would like to source more dollar-denominated components. And he says cooperating with another automaker on small-car production sounds great “until you get down to the nitty gritty of the negotiations.” So despite all the rumors you’ve heard don’t look for action on that front.