By: JOSEPH SZCZESNY on May 13, 2008
Original Article: EDMUNDS.COM

TROY, Michigan — Behind the introduction of the Saleen S5S Raptor at the New York International Auto Show in March is the story of a corporate reorganization that blends two companies previously struggling on their own.

The new Saleen Inc. combines Motor City grit of the former ASC and the California glamour of the former Saleen operations in finely calibrated balance, said Paul Wilbur, CEO of the new Saleen.

Wilbur told AutoObserver that the Raptor is the first project in which both sides of the house have contributed. It combined the efforts of Saleen engineering and ASC’s creative team, which usually labors in anonymity for big clients such as General Motors.

About half of the company’s $180 million to $200 million in revenue comes from the specialty car business nurtured by Saleen; the other half comes from making convertible tops for Toyota, Chrysler, General Motors and Mitsubishi, business developed by ASC.

Hancock Park Associates, a Los Angles-based private equity basically created the new company when it first bought out founder Steve Saleen’s remaining interest in Saleen itself and then picked key ASC assets in bankruptcy court, said Wilbur, an executive at ASC prior to the reorganization in the summer of 2007.

ASC, or American Specialty Cars Inc., which was based in Southgate, Mich., and traces its roots back to the old American Sunroof Co. founded in the 1960s. Businessman and racecar driver Steve Saleen founded the original Saleen Inc., in Irvine, Calif., in 1984 to build what he described as an American super car.

Specialty Cars for Big Automakers

Chris Theodore, a former Chrysler and Ford executive credited with being the father of Ford’s GT, serves as the combined company’s chief technical officer. He said the Raptor, with its aluminum space frame, sleek design and 650-horsepower engine designed to run on cellulosic ethanol and with a price tag of about $185,000 is a glimpse of things to come from Saleen.

Theodore said the reorganized company is already in discussions with big carmakers, looking to add some specialty cars spice to their product lines. “There is a lot of interest,” he said.

Design and engineering of concept cars like the Raptor, which Theodore and Wilbur estimate Saleen could build in about two years once financing and business case are approved, is only part of the company’s story.

Wilbur said Saleen has concentrated its vehicle-making operations just outside of Detroit. “Our (Michigan) facility has one of the most sophisticated low-volume, paint facilities in North America. When you combine that with the phenomenal automotive talent pool that is available in Michigan, it’s a natural step,” Wilbur said.

The paint system, the heart of the Michigan operation, was installed earlier in the decade when Saleen had a contract to paint Ford GTs before they went back to Ford for final assembly. Since last fall, the system in the Troy, Mich., plant has also painted the Dodge Viper for Chrysler, Theodore said.

Building a New Saleen Brand

Marques McCammon, Saleen’s marketing chief who came from Chrysler’s performance SRT group, said his mission is to take the Saleen brand into a new era, following the departure of the company’s founder in the spring of 2007. Under Saleen, the company had produced more than 12,000 vehicles, including the S7, as well as the S281 Mustang, S331 Sport Truck and Saleen/Parnelli Jones limited-edition Mustang. A limited edition Dan Gurney Mustang is also in the works.

The new company already is taking orders for the Sterling Edition Mustang, which creates from a stock Mustang “a completely different car,” as McCammon describes with a 620-horsepower engine, new suspension, steering gear and transmission. The buyer receives a company-paid trip and guided tour of the plant that builds the $100,000 car, dinner with company executives, a photo album, letter of authenticity and a serialized car cover. “We are a vehicle manufacturer, but we take it to the next level,” McCammon said.

Steve Saleen Moves On

Meantime, Steve Saleen recently founded a new company in Southern California, SMS, as a niche manufacturer of lifestyle ultra-high performance vehicles, technical performance parts, lifestyle accessories and apparel. Just this week the new company introduced the first in a line of Signature Series ultra-high performance vehicles, the SMS 570 Challenger and SMS 570X Challenger. The street legal cars are based on the 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T with a 5.7-liter Hemi engine rated at 500 or 700 horsepower. Steve Saleen signs the limited edition cars.