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Volvo Names New U.S. Chief In Shakeup To Boost Sales, Marketing : News

Volvo tapped the head of its finance arm as acting U.S. boss as part of a management shakeup to boost the automaker's lackluster U.S. sales and marketing.

Tony Nicolosi, the 53-year old CEO of Volvo Car Financial Services U.S., was named acting CEO of Volvo Cars North America today, replacing John Maloney, 52, who had held the top job since late 2011 and is leaving the company.

Nicolosi was unavailable for comment. Volvo officials said an announcement about a permanent president and CEO will be made later.

Nicolosi faces a huge task to boost Volvo's U.S. sales, which have slumped 7 percent this year in an expanding market and have gained little ground since the recession. The company has been squeezed by an aging product lineup and expanded offerings from European, U.S. and Asian luxury brands.

'Solid executive'
Alain Visser, 50, Volvo Car Corp.'s senior vice president for marketing, sales and customer service, said Nicolosi could be called "a bean counter," but he is a solid executive with strong dealer relationships.

"He is a business man who is obsessed with product like me. On paper it looks like he's a born CFO for North America," Visser said in an interview with Automotive News.

But, Visser said, Nicolosi will be a key contact with dealers to run the U.S. business on all levels to improve sales volume.

Nicolosi will continue as CEO of Volvo Car Financial Services in addition to his new job, Visser said.

"Tony is a brilliant businessman, a brand guy and a product guy," Visser said. "He's not going to be the bureaucrat. He is going to prove he can win here."

Volvo is in the midst of a "rebirth" as it prepares to launch several refreshed or new vehicles in the next year to counter slumping sales, Visser said.

The Chinese-owned Swedish automaker is looking to rebrand itself as it selects a new advertising agency sometime next month, Visser said.

"We want to shock a little bit. We are different. We are a small car company. It's a hell of a difficult job to be differentiated, and Volvo has achieved that, but we've lost a little bit of it," Visser said. "We don't have the budget to shout louder than the others so we have to have a very different voice."

Moving the needle
Volvo offered Maloney a position in Europe, Visser said, but he chose to leave the company because of family obligations.

Also leaving Volvo is Greg Swetoha, executive vice president of sales operations. Volvo's three regional vice presidents will now report directly to Nicolosi.

Nicolosi, who has been with Volvo for 26 years, takes over the role immediately, but Maloney will stay on "for a few days" to help with the transition, a Volvo spokesman said.

Nicolosi was unavailable for comment because he is focused on managing the two U.S. teams, the company said.

Nicolosi will oversee only the U.S. market. Volvo spun off the Canadian market into a separate sales region in January 2012.

The move was designed to allow the company to focus more attention and resources on the U.S. market, which along with China, is key to reaching a sales goal of 800,000 vehicles annually worldwide.

Volvo's U.S. sales peaked in 2004 at 139,067 vehicles. Last year, U.S. volume rose 1 percent to 68,117 over the previous year but trailed the industry's overall 13 percent gain.

In September, Volvo's sales declined 16 percent to 4,188 compared with the year-ago period. The brand's year-to-date sales slump -- in sharp contrast to the industry's 8 percent gain through September -- has raised concerns and challenges for dealers.

"As we dropped volume to 60,000 that is very hard on our dealer organization," Visser said. "We cannot develop plans without our dealer organization. The dealer organization will be part of the plan."

More product
"If we're very honest with ourselves, the main reason our volume has declined in recent years is we have had great products in other regions," Visser said.

But the product lineup in the United States was thin, he said, adding that will change.

Volvo will launch refreshed 2014 models of the S60 and S80 sedans and the XC60 and XC70 crossovers, leading up to the redesigned XC90 SUV launch, which Visser called an "iconic" vehicle.

The XC90 launches in about 12 months, he said.

Volvo also will start production later this year on a new Drive-E four-cylinder engine. The smaller, lighter engine is expected to provide top-notch performance with improved fuel economy, Visser said.

Volvo wants to use the engine to dominate the luxury market and rivals with top-notch fuel economy, Visser said.

In May, Automotive News reported that Volvo will return to the U.S. station wagon market with the V60 in early 2014 after a two-year hiatus.

Dealers have been lobbying for the wagon because of its appeal in Europe -- where the styling has been popular -- and a general shift among U.S. consumers toward smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Scandinavian roots
Two months ago Volvo put its advertising account, held by Arnold, up for review. Arnold came in as Volvo's lead agency in 2007, together with Nitro. In 2011, Volvo cut ties with Nitro and started working solely with Arnold, which has been invited to submit a new bid for the account.

Volvo is now in the final phase of nominating and selecting a new global agency, Visser said.

"We have some work to do in the U.S. marketplace," Visser said. "We have lost a bit of our unique way of going to market and we want to change that."

Volvo uses many ad agencies in different markets, which is not an efficient way to go to market or to deliver a consistent brand image, Visser said.

"We are the only Scandinavian car manufacturer and we have not behaved as a Scandinavian car manufacturer. We own safety, and we have not communicated that. And technology," Visser said. "When I look at our communication and marketing, it's really not us."

Besides an emphasis on Scandinavian expertise in technology and safety, Visser said Volvo will take risks in future marketing efforts.

"We are a small manufacturer so because we can't be the loudest, we can be different," Visser said.

He said the brand will convey a more defined attitude.

"We are an understatement. We do not want to be equal to BMW, Audi or Mercedes. We are a 'we' brand and that is a very different way of communicating," Visser said. "It starts with the consumer and ends with a great product. It doesn't start with the product."

Management shuffle
The latest executive changes are one of several management upheavals at Volvo in recent years.

Volvo promoted Maloney to the top U.S. job in November 2011. He has been with Volvo Cars of North America since 2000 and served as vice president of marketing and planning before being named CEO of Volvo Cars of North America.

He had more than 28 years of experience in the automotive industry, all of them with Volvo and Ford, which previously owned the Swedish brand.

Maloney replaced Doug Speck at the time. Speck, 54, moved to Sweden earlier that year to become senior vice president of marketing, sales and customer service at parent company Volvo Car Corp. Speck left his post in July and was replaced by Visser.

Belgium-born Visser started his career with Ford of Europe in 1986. He joined Volvo Cars in September 2012 from General Motors where he served as a board member for Opel.

Visser joined Volvo in the role of vice president of sales operations within marketing, sales and customer service. He took over as senior vice president of marketing, sales and customer service in July 2013.

Speck is assisting with the company's China operations as a consultant through year-end.

In August 2010, China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group bought Volvo from Ford for $1.3 billion.

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Sources : Volvo Names New U.S. Chief In Shakeup To Boost Sales, Marketing Photo | Volvo Names New U.S. Chief In Shakeup To Boost Sales, Marketing Article


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