Polestar, Volvo’s new electric car brand, will give customers Apple-style juice instead of auto alley lemon-aid.
“In simple terms, we want to put a bit of fun back into retail,” says Polestar chief operating officer Jonathan Goodman.
The new name aims to enter the Australian market late in 2020 or early in 2021 with the Polestar 2. This high-performance five-door liftback is a competitor for the Tesla Model 3, the most affordable car so far from the California-based electric vehicle specialist.
The Polestar 2 will at first come with a pair of powerful electric motors and big battery pack for a driving range of about 500km.
It will be manufactured in Luqiao, China. Since 2010 Volvo Cars has been owned by Chinese multinational Geely Holding Group. Polestar is jointly owned by Volvo and Geely.
For most people buying a car isn’t enjoyable, says Goodman. “Why should it be a stressful and antagonistic process?”
Polestar plans to do it very differently. “We want to take two of the hassle pinch points out of the car-buying process.”
The company will select two, or perhaps three, Australian Volvo dealers to set up stores in existing shopping areas. Each Polestar Space will be staffed by product experts, not high-pressure sales people. “The customer will order online, direct,” Goodman says.
At about 250 square metres, a Polestar Space will not be large. “It will be two, three cars, maximum, in there,” he says. “It will be in city centres. It won’t be on motor alleys outside of town.”
Polestar’s pick-up and return servicing will mean owners don’t have to deal face-to-face with a service manager. Instead, service staff will collect cars in the morning from a workplace, unlocking it remotely with a digital key and returning it in the afternoon to its parking spot, serviced and cleaned.
And most owners won’t have a bill to pay, because Polestar aims to sell most of its cars on a subscription plan that includes maintenance, insurance and finance. This means no uncertainty for customers over the running costs or depreciation of what is almost certain to be their first electric vehicle.
To be viable, each Polestar Space needs persuade 500 to 600 people a year to buy into the Swedish brand. With two or three planned for Australia, this means Polestar aims to sell between 1000 and 1800 electric cars a year, a very ambitious target range.
Electric cars are not popular in Australia. So far in 2019 pure electric and plug-in hybrids account for just 0.2 per cent of new vehicle sales — that’s 181 sales in four months.
Polestar will launch first in markets where electric car sales are already strong, and growing. China and the US, beginning with California, will be in the first phase of the brand’s global roll out. So too will a bunch of northern European countries, naturally including Norway, where electric vehicles account for 50 per cent of new car sales.
“For us, Australia is very much a Phase 2 market,” Goodman admits.
The Polestar 2’s €59,900 price in Europe points to about $90,000 in Australia.
The company is also developing a less expensive variant of the Polestar 2 for later production, Goodman says. Probably with a smaller battery pack for reduced driving range, and possibly with one motor instead of two, this could be priced as low as $55,000.
Late in 2021 a second model will join the Polestar 2. The Polestar 3 will be “an SUV coupe”, he says.
The executive says Polestar has not modelled its low-pressure sales strategy on Tesla. “What we wanted to do was create something that was a bit more intimate, that was in town centres where people go to shop anyway, to make it a bit more accessible, and certainly less intimidating.”
“You have a little look at what happens in an Apple store …”