Lex Kerssemakers didn’t modification his job style once Volvo Cars chosen him or her a little a lot more compared to a year ago to lead the Swedish automaker’s resurgence in the United States.
At a glance
Who: Alexander ‘Lex’ B.M. Kerssemakers
Title: Senior vice president Americas region; president and CEO Volvo Vehicle USA
Born: Netherlands in 1960
Education: Graduated in automotive business management, Institute of Automotive Management, Driebergen, Netherlands, in 1982
Personal: Married, has actually a daughter and a son
Hobbies: Snowboarding, mountain biking, field hockey, classic cars
Kerssemakers has actually constantly been initial in the office and last to leave.
“I’ve constantly been an early bird,” Kerssemakers said. “I love to be early. In the morning, I try to tackle the conversations along with Europe, and then you have actually the rest of the day to focus on the U.S. and South America.”
If the brand-new job has actually changed his job habits in any way, it’s in the quantity of frequent-flyer miles he accumulates.
“The United States is so amazingly big. I’m spending a lot a lot more time traveling,” said Kerssemakers, That got his start along with Volvo in 1983 as a purchasing manager and now oversees operations in North and South America, including construction of the company’s initial U.S. manufacturing plant in Berkeley County. The initial S60 sedan is scheduled to roll off the assembly line at that campus near Ridgeville in 2018.
Kerssemakers makes at least two cross-country trips each week and has actually an intercontinental flight at least once a month. It’s a lot of travel, yet an crucial portion of the job, he said.
“In the end, we are a people business,” Kerssemakers said. “Meeting people, looking people in the eyes and connecting. We have actually technology like video meetings, and that’s pretty good, yet sometimes once we have actually intense discussions along with a retailer concerning investments or whatever, I wish to be there. I wish to prove to that we are committed.”
That sort of commitment helped Volvo tape-record a 24.3 percent increase in U.S. sales in 2015 — 70,047 vehicles including an all-brand-new XC90 sport-utility automobile that was named Motor Trend magazine’s SUV of the year.
Sales through March of this year are up one more 19.2 percent as Volvo closes in on its goal of six-figure annual sales in the U.S., something it hasn’t achieved since 2007.
Kerssemakers took time throughout the recent Volvo Vehicle Open tennis tournament on Daniel Island to talk along with The Guide and Courier. The conversation has actually been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: This is the initial year Volvo has actually sponsored the Volvo Vehicle Open tennis tournament here in Charleston. exactly what are your thoughts on the tournament so far?
A: Actually, it’s been pretty good. The Volvo brand is big, yet we wish to be intimate, connect along with the customers and dialog along with the customers one-to-one. once you see this fantastic, charming stadium and it’s all relaxed and intimate, it fits us perfectly.
Q: There has actually been fairly a resurgence for Volvo, along with a 24.3 percent increase in Vehicle sales throughout the initial year of your company’s concerted effort to regain a foothold in the U.S. market. Does that surprise you or is this where you expected to be at this point?
A: This is concerning where we had hoped to be, yet we are pretty pleased along with the progress. We created a turnaround strategy in the United States and there are three main drivers which made it feasible for us to make this transformation. The initial one, and these are not in order of priority, yet the announcement of the factory in South Carolina has actually made such a trust, a self-confidence in people that Volvo is here to stay. It’s a sign of commitment. You build a factory for 50 or 60 years, so we’re not going away.
Secondly, we showed all of our retailers in the United States the journey that we are going to make between 2015 and 2020. We showed them in all transparency all of the products we’re going to do and exactly how we are going to market them, merely to make self-confidence that Volvo is spine on monitor after 6 quite reduced years. Our retailers started to realize, ‘OK, this is what’s coming so I likewise should do a few things’. They started to invest and they started to train people. The retailers were feeling pretty positive, pretty energetic and supportive for our journey.
Then we had the introduction of the XC90, which was very well-received. We’ve gotten 80 awards in one year, it’s merely absolutely amazing. And, suddenly, Volvo was from from sight and from mind to being spine along with a great car, a factory in progress in South Carolina and a retailer network which is truly pushing it and advertising again.
Q: You’ve been along with Volvo for a lot more compared to 30 years, both prior to and throughout the time Ford owned the brand and now under the ownership of billionaire Li Shufu’s Geely Holding Group Co. in China. exactly how have actually points changed since Ford sold Volvo to Geely?
A: The Chinese said from the beginning that Volvo is Volvo and we should leave Volvo alone. The Chinese owner realized he paid a lot of cash for Volvo and if he desires to leverage his investment, he has to let Volvo do exactly what they are good at. So he leaves us alone. Of course, we have actually a governance process because he desires to know exactly what we’re doing, yet he truly respected the knowledge in the company, respected the brand and the journey we are making and he gave us the time to do so. He gave us four years between 2010 and 2014 prior to the XC90 came. He has actually shown a lot of patience and the company is flourishing.
Q: So you knew from the start that it was going to take several years under Geely to turn points around?
A: Yes, we knew because we had to reinvent our product program. once Ford sold us, we knew that we couldn’t use their engines or platforms or any sort of synergy, so we had to reinvent everything. That’s the $11 billion investment in industrialization that Geely made. Of course, we kept every little thing going throughout those years, yet we knew that the big bang would certainly come along with the XC90. Now, a big portion of that is behind us and we can easily start to build the brand again.
Q: The Berkeley County plant will certainly be the only one worldwide to build the S60 sedan. exactly how far along is the design of that vehicle? Any special features you can easily tell us about?
A; Engineering is doing the last fine-tuning. We know exactly how the Vehicle will certainly look and now engineering is doing the final job prior to it goes to manufacturing because we only have actually 1½ years from now prior to the initial prototypes are going to be built in South Carolina. It’s a total brand-new platform and a total brand-new electrical infrastructure (from the previous S60).
Q: Volvo has actually said electric cars will certainly play a big role in its future. will certainly we see electric versions of the S60 built here?
A; Most likely. It’s a little bit too early, yet exactly what we have actually decided is that for the coming years we strongly believe in plug-in hybrid technology — an electrical motor, in the front or in the rear, combined along with a traditional combustion engine, where you can easily charge and elect to drive electrical or not for a certain range. …We strongly believe in electrification. So much that if we wish to sell 150,000 cars in the U.S., plug-in hybrid technology for the next four or 5 years will certainly be the most common technology. And then, slowly, it will certainly be taken over by electrical cars. So we are prepared for it.
At the end, you can’t do this alone. You have actually us as a Vehicle maker, you have actually local and national authorities that should support it (along with environmental regulations) and then you have actually the customer which is willing to try it. If you have actually that triangle it works.
Q: You recently had some troubles along with an autonomous automobile test in California, where the Vehicle didn’t perform properly because it couldn’t understand poorly painted lane markings. Such infrastructure troubles are common nationwide, and especially in South Carolina. exactly how big of a setback does that pose for autonomous driving?
A: It is solvable, yet it needs a lot of extra technology in the Vehicle to detect poorly painted lines or whatever. Infrastructure is important, and that’s exactly what we continue stressing. Everybody realizes we have actually to do something, yet we likewise understand you can’t modification that overnight. An autonomous Vehicle will certainly come. For us, it’s a tool to meet our safety vision, Vision 2020 (in which no deaths or serious injuries will certainly occur in a brand-new Volvo car).
Q: Volvo has actually embarked on the ‘Drive Me’ program where drivers in China will certainly test 100 autonomous cars on highways, similar to one more program you’ll be doing in Gothenburg, Sweden, to see exactly how the cars react to real-life situations. exactly what do you chance to learn?
A: It’s controlled learning for us and the authorities because everybody has to gain experience along with this. They should know exactly what they can easily do to improve the infrastructure and we should know exactly what troubles can easily be solved. For example, we can easily put extra cameras in cars to detect poorly painted lines, yet it may be an unnecessary expense, and we would certainly like to steer clear of that expense if we can. It’s a long journey. We are not totally prepared yet along with autonomous drive, yet we are learning.
Q: once was the last time you visited the Berkeley County plant, and exactly what are your impressions on exactly how it’s coming along?
A: Three weeks ago (mid-March) I was there. Every time I visit I see progress. The last time was three months ago. We’re driving pilings now, we’re building. It merely goes so fast. So we are totally on monitor along with an very tight deadline. Every time I’m here — and I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t mean, I merely wouldn’t say anything — every time I’m here it merely confirms that we chosen the right state. Every time we demand something, we get hold of support. It’s not concerning money. It’s concerning people. It’s concerning exactly how people are all set to tips us. We stumble sometimes, and every time there is a reaching hand to tips us out. Devoid of that, it would certainly be impossible to do the journey we are doing.
Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_