Interview with Steve Saleen
PickupTruck.com editor Mike Magda caught up with Saleen at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
PickupTruck.com: What was the genesis of this project?
Steve Saleen: It was driven by the consumer. We’ve had a lot of Saleen customers over the years suggest we offer a vehicle that might be more practical. We also went to our dealer base, which was very enthusiastic about our approach.
PUTC: You mentioned practical application. You had the Saleen Explorer, which was also a practical vehicle. Was that a successful program?
Saleen: It was on some levels. We never really achieved the volume but it was at a point in time that what were doing with the Mustang and where we were going as a company, we weren’t really in harmony. This is our first serious entry into trucks.
PUTC: Was the absence of the SVT Lightning a motivating factor?
Saleen: I don’t know if that played a major role. I say that because we have co-existed with SVT product our whole life. I find that when they’re in production with their Mustang, I see no effect on our sales volume. And when they’re out of production, I see no effect. We’re literally two different markets. We just felt, from a Saleen standpoint, there is a market segment that we felt was not being serviced, based on our customers and dealers telling us that. And it was a market segment that we really understand quite well. Plus we had the manufacturing resources to do that. That’s what influenced more than any other factor.
PUTC: Sales numbers and penetration for extended-cab pickups have declined dramatically the past few years. Why did you go with the Super Cab?
Saleen: Our research and dealers told us that for the customers they were seeing, this was the preferred look.
PUTC: In your introduction at the show, you more or less threw down the gauntlet at the Dodge SRT-10.
Saleen: I don’t want to speak about future product but recognize that this is our starting point: 450 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. If you look at our past performance with the Mustang, may give you a little indication of where we’re going in the future.
PUTC: Where will the truck be built?
Saleen: Production will be done in both our Irvine (California) and Troy (Michigan) facilities.
PUTC: Let’s talk about the exterior design. Who else can you credit for working with you on the design?
Saleen: Over the years the fellow who’s worked the most with me is Phil Frank.
PUTC: Keeping familiar Saleen design cues was important to this project?
Saleen: Yes, this is a Saleen-branded vehicle. Our design language is very critical to maintaining the uniformity across all our vehicles. If you compare the truck to our Mustangs and the Mustangs to our S7, you will see a Saleen design. They’re very visual, especially in the front. Most of our design language is based on performance: air in, air out and very aerodynamic.
PUTC: Was there a conflict between your styling ideas and the truck look?
Saleen: No. The one thing is that we’ve not tried to take the truck out of the truck. By that, I mean we’ve made it very user friendly and practical. It can still do everything that you want a truck to do in hauling and load capacity.
PUTC: What were the design and engineering challenges for the side exhaust?
Saleen: The gas tank. Doing side exhaust on both sides is a challenge. Also, the side skirting is essential for better aero. Trucks typically don’t come to mind for that type of application. Engineering is required to put the side skirting and hold it in place in conjunction with the expansion heat from the exhaust and then the cooling. Always lends a challenge. You’ll notice we have a slip joint between the bed and cab. That allows for movement.
PUTC: When this generation F-150 came out, one of the biggest criticisms was the extra weight that was packed on over the previous generation. Was that an engineering challenge in developing the suspension?
Saleen: It is but we went through the same thing with the Mustang. It seem like the current Mustang grew by a third, also in the weight. But we’ve been able to overcome that with the way we’ve engineered the drivetrain, tire and wheel package and other aspects. That’s the downside. The plus side is that the weight is giving you a much sturdier vehicle. The type of suspension changes we make in valving or offsets give you much greater results than before. Everything is a tradeoff.
PUTC: Let’s talk about the SCCA truck racing. That series never really got off the ground whereas the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series really took off. I guess racing 4-cylinder engines just wasn’t exciting.
Saleen: I disagree. Both from a competitor’s standpoint and talking with people trackside, I think the truck series was some of the most exciting racing they’ve ever seen. But I think the abilities of SCCA and NASCAR are on two different levels. It was the execution that made more of a difference, not the racing.
PUTC: How many dealers do you have?
Saleen: Currently about 200, and we’re looking to expand that now with the truck market by year end to 300.
PUTC: Do you have projected sales volume for the first year?
Saleen: We’re starting production in July, so we’ll only half-year’s worth of numbers. We anticipate the market has the potential to be more than the Mustang. Currently we’re doing about 2800 to 3000 Mustangs a year.
Saleen: The 3-valve will start in the high $30,000. The supercharger version will be in the high $40,000. Fully loaded right around $50,000.
PUTC: Your customer base. I’ve seen a number of SVT owners use Lightnings to tow their Cobra R to races and events. Are you expecting your first group of buyers to be Saleen Mustang owners?
Saleen: I think that’ll be one segment. I also see a lot of people who have boats. This will be a pretty cool vehicle to show up at the boat ramp, plus it will be very practical with the torque and having that horsepower for passing. We’ve also had some pretty good interest from motorcycle owners.