While the media at large devotes a lot of attention to Tesla as well as other EV companies that have yet to produce a single vehicle, Volvo’s EV spinoff, Polestar, has built an established a dealer network that is offering two models outside of the spotlight.
No wonder Gregor Hembraugh, chief of Polestar’s U.S. operations is optimistic. In the four years since the brand launched, Polestar is now sold on four continents and in 13 countries, including the United States. In fact, the brand launched with surprising swiftness, going from concept car to production in a mere 24 months, with sales having started stateside in 2020.
Polestar and Volvo are part of China’s Geely Auto Group. Currently, the automaker sells two vehicles here, the Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid, built at its Chengdu, China plant, and the Polestar 2 all-electric crossover utility vehicle, manufactured at the company’s Luqiao, China facility.
The brand’s headquarters is in Gothenburg, Sweden, on the Volvo campus while its research and development facilities are in Coventry, England, and other parts of Europe. Globally, Polestar employs 1,100 people.
Distinguishing Polestar from Volvo
Most consumers, upon learning of Polestar, have the same reaction: Can’t you just sell these vehicles as Volvos?
“The simple fact is the answer is no,” Hembraigh said. “Not as quickly as we’re going into the marketplace.”
Volvo doesn’t have the ability to go fully electric right now, as the brand continues to sell diesel vehicles, which they’re phasing out, as well as mild hybrids. Furthermore, the brand’s DNA is about offering a warm and cocooning type of environment. “It’s natural. It’s humanistic. It’s a safe and responsible brand,” he said.
In contrast, Polestar is much more minimalistic and Teutonic. Hembraugh said the company is more engineering focused, high tech and exclusive. “Words like sustainable and progressive are words that we use in our chapters versus safety. Safety will again be at the bedrock,” he said.
A developing product line
Currently Polestar offers two vehicles. The Polestar is its oldest vehicle, an elegant plug-in hybrid 2+2 coupe with a pure EV range of 52 miles. A turbo- and supercharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine matched to an electric motor delivers 375 horsepower to the front wheels, while dual rear electric motors generate 114 horsepower to the rear wheels for a total system output of 619 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. Opulent and lovely, the Polestar 1 is pricey and exclusive. But company officials say that 2021 will be its last model year, and the brand’s only hybrid. All future models will be EVs.
When manufacturing of the Polestar 1 wraps up, the automaker expects to build a total of 1,000 to 1,500 cars. This begs the question, what would replace it in the line-up? “If something else goes in there, it’ll probably be something a little bit more of a niche halo product in the future,” he said.
That could be the Precept, a concept car officials initially said wasn’t going into production, but now appears to have been given the green light. The coupe-like sedan “will go into production,” Hembraugh said. “Where and when is a topic for another discussion. But again, this will fill the whole of the Polestar portfolio going forward.”
Before then the company is planning to launch the 2022 Polestar 3, will be built at Geely’s plant in Ridgeville, South Carolina near Charleston, sharing its assembly line with the Volvo S60 and the next-generation XC90.
Aside from the Polestar 1, the company currently sells the Polestar 2 EV, the brand’s first all-electric model. It employs Geely’s CMA architecture used in the Volvo S40 sedan and XC40 crossover. Currently offered with dual electric motors and all-wheel drive, it generates 408 hp, 487 lb-ft of torque and a range of 249 miles. A less expensive single motor model with front-wheel drive and a range of 265 miles is coming in October.
Uniquely, the Polestar 2, along with future Polestar models, are the first cars to have Android-embedded technology. The company is planning the Polestar to be a technology leader, so look for features such as ocular tracking to be used in the future. It would allow the car to follow your eyes, and if you’re about to hit a screen icon, it would enlarge it, making it easier to activate.
A different sales model
While Volvos are sold through a traditional sales channel, and Teslas are sold through corporate-owned stores, Polestar goes for a model that falls somewhere in the middle. Polestar currently has 23 Spaces, its term for dealerships, with plans to have 30 by year’s end.
“We won’t stop there. Moving into 2022, we will bring that up to about 35 Spaces plus or minus depending on growing demand,” Hembraugh said.
The stores are as large as 3,500 square feet, and inventory is minimal, at five-to-seven cars for use as demonstrators or for customers who must have a car within 48 hours. Most of the cars are held by Polestar. When a customer orders a car only through Polestar.com, the cars are sent off from the port or the Space to finish the transaction.
The Spaces are setup in conjunction with Volvo’s top dealers, who handle all of the Polestar’s service functions at separate locations from the Spaces. For test drives, the company will deliver a car within 150 miles of a Space to interested customers. The same is true of service, with Polestar offering pickup and delivery service.
This hybrid approach allowed Polestar to set up a first-rate dealer network fairly quickly.
“By no means are we the experts on taking care of customers and service and sales,” Hembraugh said. “The dealers are very well tuned on how to do that. We have extremely good Volvo dealerships in the marketplace. They’ve worked very hard; they’ve made great investments. And for me, I’ve seen multiple benefits of having a dealer network versus growing my organization.”
The arrangement allows Volvo dealers to reap the benefits of the most profitable part of the business, service, while avoiding the need to carry a few million dollars of inventory. That’s Polestar’s domain. And while you can only buy a Polestar through the Polestar Space or online, you can’t go into a Volvo dealership that does not have a Polestar franchise and say, “I’ll take a Polestar.”
Look for Polestar marketing to hit soon, as the company’s media spend increased sixfold this year, with 60% yet to come.
In the end, the unit is being built into Geely’s premiere brand.
“We wanted to position Polestar as the guiding star within the Geely Automotive Group. It will always be the guiding star, the pole star within the portfolio on such things as technology, innovation, design, and performance as well.”