Polestar: A subscription-based performance car

Published on 14 November 2018

A new star is rising on the international car scene: Polestar. The high-performance brand of the Volvo Car Group is the impressive 'electric calling card' of the Swedish manufacturer that surprised the world by announcing a new exclusively online sales model: subscription-based driving. How will this affect the service chain, car ownership and recycling?


Tekst Leonard van den Berg

Do not make the mistake of calling Polestar 'a Volvo'. The Swedish high-performance brand never misses an opportunity to emphasize that “Polestar is the independent electric performance brand of the Volvo Car Group”. “Polestar is a separate brand, with its own identity and a new way of electric driving.”

Carbon body

To take the market by storm, Polestar's first model will be quite special. “Polestar 1 began its presale in March of 2018 and will be on the market starting in mid-2019, providing an electrical performance gran turismo,” explains Duncan Forrester, head of PR & Communications at Polestar. “It will be equipped with a carbon body, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-compressor engine and two electric motors at the rear wheels, for a combined 600 hp and 1,000 Nm, and torque vectoring control. In addition, the car will be outfitted with high-end Öhlins shock absorbers and an Akebono braking system. A real high-performance car. But with its 150 km range, the Polestar 1 also will have the longest pure electric range of all hybrids in the world – up to three times longer. This model is designed for a select group of car aficionados and innovators; we are looking at building no more than 500 cars a year. It will be our one and only hybrid ever. All subsequent models will be 100% electric.”

Tesla competitor

The second model to roll off the production line is the Polestar 2. “This is a fully electric battery-powered mid-class sedan that will compete with the Tesla model 3 on size and pricing,” explains Forrester. “The unveiling will take place in early 2019. This model is intended for considerably larger volumes than the Polestar 1.”

The third model on the drawing board is, you guessed it, the Polestar 3. This model is expected to launch around 2021. Details are not yet known, but Polestar predicts ‘a low, aerodynamically styled SUV with full electric propulsion and a unique design that will showcase what Polestar is developing’.

Longer distances

The Polestar 1 will be composed partly out of carbon, which means that recycling of this plug-in hybrid will be quite a challenge. Yet it was a conscious decision, says the spokesman. Forrester: “For a number of reasons. This propulsion is a key intermediate step on the way to developing a 100% electric car.”

The Polestar 1 is partly made out of carbon and as a plug-in hybrid, it will not be that easy to recycle.

“The Polestar 1 will have three times the range compared to 100% electric cars, but will offer all the benefits of electric driving: speeds up to 160 km/h and a 150 km range, plus the advantages of an internal combustion engine. That brings us to the second important reason: if you opt for a powerful gran turismo, such as the Polestar 1, you probably tend to drive longer distances. Thanks to the PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) you can continue to drive without having to worry about intermediate stops and charging points.”

Subscription-based driving

A conservative choice. More exciting than the car itself will be the sales model of the Polestar 1: all sales will occur exclusively online, based on a subscription. The media also refers to this as the Netflix or Spotify model. “It will provide a new, comfortable and very flexible form of car use,” promises the spokesperson. “We offer all services including repair, maintenance, tires, taxes and insurance – all in one monthly fee. This includes deluxe extra services such as a handy pick-up service and other VIP services.”

Fixed catalogue price; subscription costs are still unknown

Polestar does not want to be too rigid. Forrester: “If the customer wants to buy the car in the conventional way and own it, we will offer that as well.” The price of the monthly subscription fees are not yet known. What is known is that the hefty retail price (130,000 euros excluding taxes for the Polestar 1) will be the same for every version. “The Polestar 1 will be available in one complete version and for one net purchase price, regardless of the colour or interior design the customer chooses.”

Exclusively sold online

Exclusively sold online, the Polestar will not have its own dealer network. “We are going to build a network of retail addresses where consumers can learn more about the brand, the products and possibilities, and where they can take a test drive. But don't expect any pushy sales staff. These 'Polestar Spaces' may be owned by Polestar or franchisees. They will be separate from Volvo dealers, at different locations. However, service and maintenance will be provided at specially trained and equipped Volvo dealers. For Polestar, this is one of the major perks of being part of the Volvo Car Group.”

Refurbishing

One important detail about the subscription model: the car remains the property of the manufacturer. When asked about the length of the subscriptions, and what happens afterwards, the spokesman shares few details.

One important detail about the subscription model: the car remains the property of the manufacturer

“We have not yet determined the length of the subscription, but initially it will probably be two years. When the first customer returns the car at the end of that period, we will 'refurbish' it and prepare it for a next subscriber. The precise conditions and warranties for a subsequent subscription have not yet been finalised, but we are definitely aiming for a second subscription period.”

External dismantling or in closed loops?

What Polestar as owner will do with the cars afterwards – after about six to eight years – still remains to be seen. Forrester: “We now assume that the cars will most likely still be suitable for the used car market. And at the end of their cycle they will be recycled of course, just like other cars.”

The prestigious brand does not foresee any special surprises when it comes to recyclability. “It is still too early to make any concrete statements about this, because we are still in the development phase of our first vehicle. But as a manufacturer we must comply with the 'End of Life Vehicle' regulations that require 85% recyclability and 95% recoverability.” “As a manufacturer, we have the responsibility to ensure dismantling and/or recycling at the end of the life cycle, depending of course on the local circumstances in the various markets worldwide.”

Hand-built prototypes

While the PR machine is working hard to put the Polestar brand on the map, the Swedes are toiling behind the scenes to get the first cars ready in time. Last September they moved to the next phase: they built the first Polestar 1 test models in Volvo's technical centre in Sweden, and are now ready to undergo gruelling quality tests.

Polestar 1 VP

So far, Polestar has produced 34 'Verification Prototypes', known in the business as VPs. These first test vehicles will be put through the wringer in upcoming months. The official test programme includes long-range tests, chassis tests on the most diverse types of road surface, crash tests and climate tests in extreme heat and cold.

Handmade

Polestar builds its test vehicles in a special department in Gothenburg, where all Volvo test vehicles see the light of day. Just like the prototypes, the final production models will be built almost entirely by hand. The production version of the Polestar 1 is expected to roll off the assembly line by the middle of next year; series production will take place in China; The Volvo Car Group is owned by Chinese company Geely.