Look out, Tesla. Look out, conventional automakers going deeper into the performance electric vehicle space. Volvo has spun off Polestar into a standalone performance EV brand, and the first vehicle to wear the new logo will be a 600-horsepower sports coupe with 150 km (93 miles) of range before the hybrid's gas engine kicks in.
The Polestar 1 will be built at a new plant under construction in Chengdu, China, which is scheduled to begin production in mid-2019. Polestar will only make 500 of the two-door, 2+2 seat Grand Tourer Coupe, but if the demand is there the automaker will build more as it is not a limited edition and the vehicles are not numbered, said Jonathan Goodman, Polestar chief operating officer. Order banks opened today for hand raisers, but pricing has not been announced. Goodman said they have not thought about the subscription cost yet. But to get some idea, he said if someone offered $100,000-plus to buy one, they would likely be accommodated.
At a press event in Shanghai, Polestar's new CEO Thomas Ingenlath said two more vehicles are in the works. Although the Polestar 1 is a hybrid, all future models will be pure electric vehicles, a move that makes Tesla a direct competitor.
The Polestar 1 GT is the halo for the brand, Ingenlath said, and the first to wear the new Polestar logo on the hood. It makes its debut with 600 hp and 738 lb-ft (1,000 Nm) of torque, and its 93-mile range beats other hybrids on the market today and far exceeds anything the Volvo brand has done to date with its line of T8 hybrids.
The underpinnings for the first Polestar vehicles come from Volvo's Scalable Platform Architecture or SPA, and the hybrid system in the Polestar 1 uses Volvo's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. But 50 percent of the Polestar 1 is new and bespoke from Polestar's engineers, and Polestar's future role is as the technology spearhead. Its innovation will trickle down to the rest of the Volvo Group. And bespoke Polestar cars does not preclude Volvos from continuing to get the Polestar tuner treatment. In fact, the likelihood is that more Volvo models can be ordered with Polestar parts from the factory in the future, Goodman said.
The coupe is slightly smaller than the Volvo S90, with a shorter wheelbase and shorter rear end for sportier proportions, but there are definite Volvo styling cues both inside and out. The model bears a strong resemblance to the Volvo Concept Coupe that debuted in 2013. That is because it is the production model of the Concept Coupe but the automaker decided it should go to Polestar instead of Volvo. In other words: don't look for a Volvo C90 or C60 in the future.
The Polestar 1 has a carbon-fiber body, making it stiffer and lighter (the 507 pounds saved by using carbon fiber is exactly the extra weight of the car's additional battery packs) and it is the first use of the hlins Continuously Controlled Electronic Suspension technology, which has an electronic valve for monitoring driver input and road conditions to react instantly.
On the powertrain side, each rear wheel has an electric motor and planetary gear seat housed in an aluminum subframe. The new double electric rear axle enables torque vectoring for better cornering in this rear-drive electric performance car. The 2.0-liter gas engine powers the front wheels. There are two battery packs in the tunnel and a third battery pack in the rear. Altogether the car has 194 kw/hrs of electric power.
"We consider it an electric car with support from an internal combustion engine," Ingenlath said. He calls the hybrid a bridge to the rest of the all-electric lineup.
The Polestar 2 will be a midsized electric car that goes up against the Model 3. Tesla is currently struggling to ramp up production for the Model 3 and to keep it to an affordable price point. The Polestar 2 is in the engineering stage and is slated to begin production in late 2019. Although the Volvo Group has a number of hybrids, this will be its first full battery electric vehicle. It will be a higher volume vehicle than the Polestar 1. This vehicle will be on the compact modular platform underpinning the XC40 instead of SPA.
The Polestar 3 is a fully electric SUV with a low roof and powerful body. The design is currently being locked in. It will slot between the Polestar 1 and Polestar 2 in volume and pricing. It will be on sale within four years and will be on the next-generation SPA. It is expected to be a performance version of the next XC90.
Motor Trend also learned that a mock-up has been done for a convertible.
Inside the Polestar 1 adopts the Volvo look with the large touchscreen and aviator air vents but where Volvo uses wood on the dash, the Polestar uses carbon fiber and it runs the full height to the top of the dash. The back seats fold flat even though they are nestled into the body of the car and the cords for the battery packs are on display when you open the trunk. Depending on your exterior color, the rear seats could be a different color than the front. In the show cars unveiled in Shanghai, a black Polestar 1 has all seats the same color and has the logo in chrome on the front and rear of the car. But the white show car has no chrome, the logo is white matte on the glossy white exterior, and the front seats are light while the rear seats are black. Gold seatbelts match the calipers and suspension.
An illuminated logo, which is a modern take on the original one that denotes the north star, is on the ceiling of the car and can also be seen from the outside of the glass sunroof.
Thor's Hammer headlights telegraph that Polestar is part of the Volvo family. But instead of a traditional grille the car has a grid since there is no need for air flow with electric vehicles and it also makes room for sensors for semi-autonomous driving which is an area where Volvo is already fairly advanced.
Robin Page, Volvo senior vice president of design, said Polestar 1 has a lot of Volvo design because they wanted to get the concept coupe into production as quickly as possible. Successive Polestars will have more differentiation and he likes the ability to experiment more with Polestar design. "We can try things with Polestar that we can't do with Volvo."
The new brand also sets itself apart because all sales are online, and it has adopted a subscription model where the buyer signs up for two or three years. The buyer's monthly payment allows them to add features such as pick up and delivery or the option to rent a bigger vehicle or add a roof box for the weekend at an incremental cost. The flat fee includes insurance, maintenance (someone will pick up the car, have it serviced, and return it freshly washed) and other concierge services such as booking a car wash or a rental of a different car for a weekend trip. Everything is ordered online.
There will be "Spaces" where customers can go for a test drive. They will be standalone—not in Volvo showrooms—but all Volvo dealerships will be able to provide service on Polestar vehicles. The first will open in early 2019 and they will grow to about 80 in key markets around the world.
China has decreed that automakers have to start making electric vehicles in 2019 in a bid to address air pollution. The ruling applies to domestic automakers, as well. Polestar is a subsidiary of the Volvo Car Group, which is owned by China's Zhejiang Geely.
By using Volvo's SPA platform, Polestar can get new vehicles to market quicker and also enjoy the cost savings of economies of scale, with big parts purchases shared across Volvo and Polestar.
Polestar dates back to Flash Engineering, a racing team in the 1990s. It was taken over by Christian Dahl in 2004 and renamed Polestar. The first Volvo performance vehicle from Polestar was a concept based on the C30 in 2010, and in 2013 the Volvo V60 and S60 Polestars went on sale. In 2015 Volvo bought Polestar from Dahl, giving it an in-house turning brand.
Goodman said customers look to Volvo for vehicles that are safe and comfortable. Polestar fills the gap for those who want more of a driver's car. And while Polestar will be all-electric, the introductory Polestar 1 makes sense as a hybrid to bridge the gap for those not quite ready to be fully electrified. And as a grand tourer, it makes sense to offer the extra range, he said.