Volvo’s Polestar is ready to come of age
Volvo’s performance electric car division is getting closer to production and Mark Smyth spoke to its COO, Jonathan Goodman
When Flash Engineering, the Swedish company that ran Volvo’s race car team became Polestar in 2005, it was turned into a performance division to try and take on the likes of BMW’s M and Mercedes’ AMG. It was a time when Volvo was going through some major changes, the most significant of which was its purchase by Chinese automotive giant Geely in 2010 after a trying time under the ownership of Ford.
While the headlines were all about the new Chinese owners, behind the scenes things changed rapidly as Volvo transformed from a company that made good, safe cars to one that made stylish, modern and tech-laden models. A push for more environmentally friendly engines and materials also got underway and then in 2017 the company announced that Polestar would be launched as an electric car brand to take on the likes of Tesla and electric vehicles (EV) from major car companies.
It’s first car, the Polestar 1, which goes into production later in 2019 , is actually a hybrid, using a combination of a Volvo engine and two electric motors. It’s a performance coupe, a grand tourer if you like, taking some styling cues from the iconic P1800 but with a distinctly modern take. Just 500 are being produced but earlier in 2019 things went more mainstream, at least in the EV sense, when the company revealed its Polestar 2.
“We’ve come a long way,” Jonathan Goodman, COO of Polestar told us. “Six months, 12 months ago we’d unveiled a performance hybrid which was niche volumes, 500 a year, so a halo for the brand, very much talking about the brand. This is the time when we really launch Polestar as an electric vehicle brand and I think that’s very much the future as we see it, every car we launch after Polestar 2 will be an EV, a pure battery-electric vehicle.”
The industry too has come a long way, with Jaguar’s first EV, the I-Pace becoming the first EV to take the overall win in the World Car of the Year Awards recently.
But why a standalone Polestar brand? Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson announced in 2017 that from 2019 all its new models will feature electrification, so why not just have Volvo EVs, which are coming?
“You have to have a very clear positioning as a brand and if you take for example Volvo and Polestar, Polestar has always been about being a performance electric brand, it’s about cars that are fabulous to drive, it’s the heritage of the brand and it’s very much an area where we add something that Volvo doesn’t have,” says Goodman.
“Volvo, good looking cars, safe cars, comfort and then Polestar will be great looking cars, avant-garde design but at the same time these cars will be great cars to drive.”
He says the drawcard will be the driving dynamics.
“I think the racing heritage of Polestar as a brand in the past has given us real expertise in the chassis tuning and set-up and I think that in that respect we are going to have cars that are going to be great quality cars with 300kW of power but a great balance and set-up in terms of the chassis and I think that that driveability is going to be one of the things that is going to set us apart.”
Goodman says the target matches that of many rivals at around 500km on a full set of batteries, but he expects range to become less of an issue.
“I think you’ve got to reassure what will be a lot of first time buyers into the EV market how far this car will go and get rid of this notion of range anxiety and so I think 500km, that’s going to be important. Does it need to be 5km better than someone else? I don’t think that’s a factor at all, I think you’ve got to be at the right area.
"You’ve got to be competitive but how often do you or I drive 500km a day, the average person not that often. What they need to know is when they need to drive 500km they can do it in the car, or they have access to the charging on route.”
Polestar is not destined for SA just yet as the brand concentrates on priority markets such as China, US and Europe, but Goodman has not discounted the possibility of a future launch here.