Pole Position

Polestar’s Duncan Forrester speaks to Peter Wooding about the rise of the now standalone electric performance brand.

Polestar is the new electric performance brand from the Volvo Car Group. Previously, Polestar was Volvo's performance arm, tuning Volvo cars with increased performance, upgraded suspension and brakes. However, in 2017 the company developed into a new standalone electric performance brand. In short, Forrester and the rest of the team at Polestar believe in the rise of electric mobility and, through its electric performance cars, are ready to change the way of buying, owning and living with a car. Welcome to the new era of performance.

Polestar perfectly illustrates the automotive industry's change of mindset in terms of alternative fuels, creating a product that presents the same enjoyment of conventionally fuelled vehicles through a cleaner, more sustainable solution. Forrester believes that the industry has finally identified this change. “We believe strongly in electric mobility and we are proud to be at the forefront of this change. Of course, we identified the way the industry is going and being one of the early market entrants means we can be part of the new direction,” he says. “For traditional car makers, the switch from combustion engines to electric drivetrains is quite a difficult task, convincing customers who you’ve previously sold combustion-engine cars to that electric mobility is the way to go. This, at the same time as identifying new customers who are keen to drive electric but do not automatically associate the traditional brand with electric motoring.”

However, with no legacy of combustion-engine cars, this allows Polestar to create an entirely new customer base from the start, delivering what it believes the future of electric mobility should be. “We want our cars to be enjoyable and engaging to drive, with all the benefits of electric drivetrains,” continues Forrester. “We operate very much like a start-up company but uniquely; we have the advantage over other start-ups as we benefit from the expertise of our 90-year-old parent, Volvo Cars.” This allows Polestar to still have an understanding of how to launch a car, bring it to market, industrialise it and commercialise it. “We can really take advantage of this to deliver outstanding cars to global audiences immediately,” adds Forrester. 

Building a heritage

Although Polestar has the backing and expertise of Volvo, it must still create its own identity, building from the ground up. Recruitment is extremely important for an emerging company in this respect, so it is important for Forrester and his team to assemble the best team possible to get the most experience and know-how from around the world. He explains that the Polestar team is truly global from day one. “We have our global headquarters here in Gothenburg, Sweden, but we also have our Chinese headquarters in Shanghai and we recently established a new North American operation in the USA, which is starting to take shape. Besides our presence in these three main regions, a look around our Gothenburg offices reveals that we have not only recruited talent from all over the world but also from both inside and outside of the established automotive industry in each department.” Polestar has recruited from a range of industries, such as consumer goods, fashion, media, photographic and design, which has created a very creative combination of different abilities and mindsets. “This means we can create truly a unique brand experience, and we are committed to doing things differently to the established industry,” says Forrester.

Polestar enjoys the freedom from its parent company, creating a blank canvas to paints its brand in the exact way it wants to, taking charge of its future. However, says Forrester, where the Volvo connection is important, is how it helps Polestar implement its ideas. “It’s difficult to quantify exactly how much cooperation we have with Volvo, but they certainly help us in the areas of design, R&D and mechanical engineering that, as an entirely standalone company, would take us a very long time and we would need huge amounts of money to resource it on our own. In all respects externally, Polestar is a clearly separate and distinguishable brand with our own brand tonality.” Having the best of both worlds, Polestar is able to secure support from the Volvo Group, but also take its own path and shape its brand experience. Don’t expect to find any Polestar vehicles in Volvo’s dealerships anytime soon. 

Blossoming environment

The brand’s first vehicle, the Polestar One, will open for order next year around the world in the US, China, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. Unlike conventionally-fuelled vehicles, EVs and hybrids will only thrive in an environment that will support electrification. This is a serious issue, as there is not enough infrastructure around the world for EVs. The countries mentioned above are all focused on cleaner and more sustainable transport, proving the best places for Polestar to launch in. “The rationale behind our launch markets is linked to factors like charging infrastructure, consumer incentives and of course market demand,” confirms Forrester. 

However, even in these regions, there is still not enough infrastructure to provide the same level of support that petrol and diesel vehicles get. To combat this, Polestar decided to focus on hybrid technology with its first model, rather than full-electric. “Firstly, the Polestar 1 is a GT, and this sort of car is typically used as a daily car but also for long journeys,” says Forrester. “In that sense, we refer to it as an Electric Performance Hybrid, partly because it has an electric-only driving range of 150 km – the longest pure electric range of any hybrid in the world, which means you can drive this car like an EV during the week. But, by having the combustion engine, range anxiety and the need to charge frequently on a long journey are eliminated.” The second reason is that the electric performance hybrid drivetrain is an excellent technology stepping stone towards a fully electric car for many people. “Buyers may be reluctant to go full electric because they are worried about range – with this car, they have nothing to worry about,” ensures Forrester.

Hybrids are a great solution for the transitional phase, although Polestar is already looking forward to future models that will all be fully-electric. Forrester explains that the Polestar strategy is very clear: “The Polestar 1 will be the first and only hybrid car that we make. From Polestar 2 onwards, our cars will only be fully battery electric.” This shows a long-term plan from the company, already preparing for its second vehicle in the rapidly evolving market. With lifecycles getting ever shorter, it’s not surprising that automakers are staying one step ahead. Expect to see the Polestar 2 early next year, which will be a very different car to the Polestar 1 that is comparable in size, price and performance to the Tesla model 3. Then, in a couple of years, the brand will introduce the Polestar 3; an aerodynamic SUV-style fully-electric car. “Within the next 3 years, we will be a portfolio car brand with a dedicated factory, producing high-volume electric performance cars for global markets and available through a network of Polestar Space retail experience centres worldwide,” says Forrester. “In the years that follow, more cars will be added to the portfolio and we will continue to expand into other markets and increase the global footprint.” 

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