Last year, Volvo announced it was expanding the purview of its Polestar high-performance sub-brand by making it a separate entity that would produce its own vehicles, and the debut of the first one, called simply the 1, followed shortly. This 600-hp plug-in hybrid is a carbon-fiber-bodied Volvo S90–based coupe; its electric-only range towers over that of other PHEVs at a claimed 93 miles. In addition to its flagship status, it’s also a bridge, as all future additions, including the already confirmed models 2 and 3, will be EVs. Polestar’s second entry will be a Tesla Model 3 fighter based on Volvo’s small-car Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), which also underpins the XC40, and it will be shown at about the same time as the mid-2019 launch of the 1 before going on sale about six months later. The Polestar 3 will be an SUV based on the next generation of the larger Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, dubbed SPA2.
But at least as interesting as the cars are the initial business-model claims, including that the cars will be available only to lease from small stand-alone stores that will be separate from Volvo dealers. But is Polestar really going to dive headlong into a U.S. legal thicket by trying to own these stores itself, as Tesla has? And what about the hotted-up-Volvo side of Polestar’s business? Of course, many things are still in flux ahead of the 1’s launch in mid-2019, but we had the chance to catch up with Polestar’s senior leadership and fill in a few more details.
Wisely, Polestar is not going to try to own the retail spaces itself. Polestar COO Jonathan Goodman said current Volvo franchisees will be given the first opportunities to invest in a stand-alone Polestar store, which will eventually number 20 to 25 in the United States. Critically, the employees of these new spaces are intended to be more educators than salespeople, and they won’t be paid on commission. Polestars will likely funnel through Volvo dealerships for pre-delivery inspection before being delivered directly to a buyer’s home. Service will be scheduled via smartphone app and promises to be seamless due to the ability to use a phone as the key. The owner can grant access to the courier who will pick up the car and deliver it without ever handing over a physical key. Actual servicing will take place at Volvo dealers by Polestar-trained technicians.
The single monthly payment to lease a Polestar will include insurance and maintenance as well as the ability to borrow other cars, including Volvos. A particularly intriguing option is to have a car waiting upon your arrival at a distant airport. There will also be additional features, such as loaner accessories (why buy a roof rack when it’s just going to sit in the garage most of the time?), remote detailing, and additional car-swap days, which will cost extra. There will likely be tiered pricing, in which you can opt to pay a higher monthly payment that includes credits for more of these services, or, alternatively, the ability to pay individually for each one as desired.
CEO Thomas Ingenlath, formerly Volvo’s design chief, isn’t coy about the fact that Polestar is a low-risk way to test new sales models that could later be adapted for use at the Volvo mother ship, or for Lynk & Co in China, which arose from a combined Volvo/Geely effort. And many of these ideas are extensions of on-demand services that Volvo has been tinkering with in the United States, such as fueling and detailing.
And how about high-performance Polestar variants of Volvo models? Those will continue, as will Polestar accessories, but, confusingly, those will be available only through Volvo dealers and not through the stand-alone Polestar stores. Also slightly confusing is the couldn’t-be-simpler naming convention. Polestar officials like to use the abbreviation PS in front of the company’s model names, but PS3, for example, is a mental mapping that’s already occupied by a certain electronic gaming console. Referring to it instead as “Model 3” also creates obvious confusion.
But the services-on-demand features are intriguing, as is the thought of highly designed, higher-performance Volvos. We’ll be waiting to see how it all shakes out.