Exclusive interview: Steve Saleen and SMS Limited

We're big fans of Steve Saleen. He's created some pretty incredible Mustangs over the last 25 years, and any guy that successfully builds his own supercar gets major props in our book. Plus, we could listen to his racing stories for hours. After he announced his retirement from Saleen, Inc last year, we were somewhat disappointed when he took the position of CEO at ZX Automobile, a Chinese car company hoping to import trucks into the United States. It's not that we think Steve wasn't up to the task; we were just hoping he would stick to sports cars.

We shouldn't have worried, because Steve announced the formation of his new company, SMS Limited, in March of this year with plans to develop vehicles based on the new breed of American muscle cars (Mustang, Challenger and Camaro) as well as race in the American Le Mans Series. We wanted to get more info on Steve's plans with the company, and what better way than to hear it from the man himself. We were able to get a one-on-one with Steve, and got some inside info on the new company and his plans to race an S7R in the ALMS. Interested? Follow the jump for the interview.

Interview with Steve Saleen - SMS Limited Chairman and CEO
May 28, 2008

Autoblog: What does SMS stand for?

Steve Saleen: We used my initials (Stephen Mark Saleen) for the name of the company in keeping with the more personal expression, commitment to quality and exclusivity of the vehicles we will be designing and manufacturing.

Autoblog: What inspired you to form SMS?

Steve Saleen: In addition to my long-standing relationship with the Ford brand I wanted to expand into new markets with the Dodge and Chevrolet muscle cars that are coming out now. For contractual reasons this was not going to happen at Saleen, Inc. due to their heritage with Ford products and the Ford dealer network.

Autoblog: You've brought Bill Tally and Phil Frank with you. How important is it to have them working alongside you? Is anyone else involved in SMS that you have worked with before?

Steve Saleen: Those who know me are aware that building a great team is essential for any venture to be successful, be it on the racetrack or in business. You need to have the right mixture of long-standing and experienced acquaintances and "new blood" bringing in new ideas. Billy and Phil have been integral to all the vehicle and aftermarket programs my team and I have developed in the last 15 years, having them with me to build up this new team is essential when it comes to talent, drive and getting the most from the team and the vehicles.

Along with a number of engineers we had worked with in the past I am also leaning on my children Clint, Sean and Molly to help with the business development and management as we set things for the future.

Autoblog: Is there anything that you are doing differently with SMS than you have with your previous

Steve Saleen: Well, first off we are doing everything right from the start; we are not held back by any antiquated systems or processes. We have a completely fresh start but with a deep understanding of the factors that stood in our way in the past. We are establishing the proper protocols, processes and procedures for everything so there is no ambiguity or confusion as we go forward in our business and product development.

Secondly we now have an incredible array of high-end prototype, fabrication, machining, development, testing and manufacturing tools such as; 13 variations of CNCs, an SLS Sinter station, engine and chassis dynameters, etc that will allow us to do a whole range of tasks internally, making us a great deal more independent from third parties. Having this new technology to our disposal will also allow us to create and market new technologies that will set us apart in the marketplace.

Autoblog: Your vehicles have always had a very signature look. Will your new cars have any specific
design attributes?

Steve Saleen: Our aesthetics will push the envelope of functional aesthetic innovation, you will be seeing an example of this with a new concept we are rolling out very shortly. Stay tuned.

Autoblog: You've been very involved in nearly every aspect of your companies. Will you continue to do
this with SMS?

Steve Saleen: Yes, as ever I am heavily involved in all aspects of the business and will be so as we move forward. However, as I mentioned earlier, we are setting up the processes and procedures that will ensure that the business is built on the best possible foundation for success. And – you might have heard I have actually taken up racing again...

Autoblog: Will you be working with the Ford Mustang again? Any other vehicles?

Steve Saleen: When the next generation Mustang arrives you can be sure to see our newly developed SMS technology at the top of the food chain. As you know we just announced the SMS 570 Challengers and – as I said – will make another important announcement in the near future.

Autoblog: Do you have any plans to build a completely unique vehicle like you did with the S7?

Steve Saleen: All I can say at this time is that it is in our DNA to develop and build supercars.

Autoblog: Can you give us any details about your future plans for racing in the ALMS?

Steve Saleen: Currently we are testing the two 2007 ELMS Championship Winning S7R's here in the States with the goal of running a number of races towards the end of the season. If you can believe this will be my first opportunity to drive an S7R competitively! I had a number of opportunities to fill in for privateer team drivers but never took the chance. The S7 is perfectly suited for my driving style. And, not that I am boasting, but in testing I've beat Stephan Ortelli's lap times around Willow Springs while he was there testing the same car... (smiles)

Autoblog: What do you think of the Saleen S5S Raptor concept?

Steve Saleen: I had no involvement in the Raptor concept other than the original groundwork that Billy, Phil and I had laid out in 2005 for developing the S5. As a clay study it has its merits, now we need to wait and see what they are going to make of it.

Autoblog: Thanks for your time, Steve.

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