Amsterdam, a city where bikes outnumber inhabitants and roughly half of all commutes happen on two wheels, might seem like an odd choice of location to launch a new car brand, but Lynk & Co isn’t your typical car company. Created by Geely and Volvo, Lynk & Co is trying to do things differently. First, by focusing on vehicle sharing instead of individual ownership, and second, by attracting potential customers through its own social “clubs.” The first club is now open in a historic building in central Amsterdam, six months before Lynk & Co’s first connected car — the 01 compact SUV hybrid or plug-in hybrid — begins shipping throughout Europe.
The Amsterdam Club, as it’s called, is more social hangout than showroom. It’s a place designed to attract people who, like Lynk & Co CEO Alain Visser, think car ownership is passé and that real estate dedicated to idle vehicles parked on city streets and inside sprawling garages should be reclaimed for residents. Here, you can sign up to join the cause and even check out the 01, which is discreetly placed away from the club’s main entrance. These aren’t showrooms but social spaces, meant to feature a minimum of two events per week to keep people coming back. These will range from sets by local DJs to exclusive sneaker drops to film screenings, cooking clinics, and jewelry-making workshops, to name just a few examples of what to expect.
Unfortunately, the timing of Lynk & Co’s first Club opening couldn’t be worse as it’s smack in the middle of a global pandemic that’s surging again in Europe (and Amsterdam, in particular). To be successful, the company has to attract enough people willing to pay for its shareable cars and others looking to rent them. But with tourism down and locals skittish about getting too close to strangers, the effectiveness of a space meant to attract large crowds is limited, even if the idea shows promise.
A new type of car company
The Dutch capital was chosen by Sweden-based Lynk & Co specifically because of its anti-car, pro-environment culture. “If we want to make a real statement about the fact that we’re not a traditional car brand, then let’s go to the city that you could say hates cars,” says Visser in an interview with The Verge.
A father’s shame is a powerful motivator
Visser is an auto industry veteran with a Ford, General Motors, and Volvo pedigree. He’s energetic and quick with a smile, even after two full days evangelizing Lynk & Co’s mission to city planners, partners, and journalists. And he genuinely seems motivated to change an industry he’s long endorsed. How can I say this? Because a father’s shame is a powerful motivator.
As Visser tells it, his epiphany came five years ago when his two “very ecological and very responsible” sons were asked if they were proud of what their father had achieved in an automotive career that spans three decades. “But you’ve sold cars,” they said accusingly, according to Visser. It was then that he decided to step away and do something totally different.
Instead of leaving the industry, Visser found his opportunity for redemption in Lynk & Co. “Wow, I thought,” says Visser, “I can take my frustration and build sustainability from within.”
According to Visser, personal cars are only used 4 percent of the time on average. Lynk & Co wants to change that by letting owners easily rent their cars for the other 96 percent of the time, right from the 01’s center console or via the Lynk & Co app. Visser says the company’s success will be measured by two metrics: how many members it can attract through its clubs and social media campaigns and how frequently its cars are utilized.
Lynk & Co’s financial success depends on attracting members who don’t want the hassle of car ownership but still want access to an automobile when needed. “According to our information, 10 percent of car buyers are open to something radically different,” says Visser. “If only a fraction of those 10 percent come to us then I think we’re doing really, really well.”
There are three types of Lynk & Co members. First, there’s the month-to-month subscriber who gets exclusive access to a car by paying €500 each month for a fully equipped 01 hybrid or plug-in hybrid that’s based on the acclaimed Volvo XC40. Month-to-month memberships can be canceled with only one month’s notice and do not include the cost of fuel. The second type of member can buy the car outright and own it for a price of €39,000, but Visser is convinced that this latter model of traditional ownership is dying, and he expects that most people will eventually “own” its cars via monthly subscriptions. The third type of so-called “free” members don’t pay anything until they want to rent someone’s 01, which is designed from the ground up to be shared. Members with a car set their own prices and conditions for rentals. Lynk & Co facilitates the sharing and covers the insurance (for the owner, renter, and third-party drivers) and scheduled maintenance of the cars using the Volvo dealer network. Visser says that Lynk & Co doesn’t make any money off of member sharing.
“In the car industry today, the biggest challenge is not the mechanical parts, it’s the software.”
The 01 sharing scheme was supposed to launch in 2018, but developing the software and data sharing infrastructure required to support the 01’s connectivity in Europe took longer than expected. “It may sound strange,” says Visser, “but in the car industry today, the biggest challenge is not the mechanical parts, it’s the software.” Besides the choice of hybrid or plug-in hybrid, the only other option with the 01 is the choice of black or blue. Otherwise, every 01 comes fully equipped with the exact same features, which makes sharing and maintenance simple and allows the company to deliver new vehicles to subscribers in just a few days.
That €500 fee for an 01 compares favorably with European leases for a Volvo XC40. But with a Lynk & Co month-to-month subscription, you can end your commitment with just one month’s notice instead of four years. Members can also drive down their monthly payments by renting the 01 when not using it. The company claims that some owners could pay very little or even earn a profit off their 01. So let’s check its math.
Another reason Amsterdam was selected as a launch city is its thriving car-sharing scene, with citizens, including myself, used to renting vehicles as and when needed. A quick check on daily rates for SUVs being shared around the city on Snappcar shows 18 cars available nearby. These range in price from €30 per day for a 2005 Hyundai Tucson, €67.50 per day for a 10-year-old Audi Q7, on up to a maximum of €235 per day for a Tesla Model X. Let’s say a Lynk & Co 01 owner shares their car only on the weekends for €60 per day, which sounds reasonable. That would bring their monthly payment down to almost €0 and still let them drive back and forth to work Monday through Friday.
Of course, none of this works if there aren’t enough of the free members signed up and using the service, and that brings us back to the Clubs.
Visser’s goal is to attract between four and five thousand Lynk & Co members from the Netherlands within the first year. And at this early stage, at least, he’s not all that concerned with how many people sign up for the €500-per-month car ownership memberships. “We just hope as many as possible sign up for the free ones,” says Visser, who thinks he can convince people of the benefits of ownership once they’re on board. The Amsterdam Club will play an important role in that upsell. And frankly, the 01 looks far better in person than it does on a webpage.
Located just a short distance from Amsterdam’s Soho Club, the Amsterdam Club is the first of a handful of Lynk & Co Clubs that will open in Europe over the next year. The next Club will open in Lynk & Co’s home of Gothenburg, Sweden, in December, with the Berlin Club opening mid-2021. But unlike the members-only Soho Club, Lynk & Co’s Clubs are open to everyone.
Entering the Amsterdam Club has the feel of slipping past the velvet rope of a posh nightclub. It’s disorienting at first, making you wonder if you’re even allowed to be there. Is it a cafe? Is it a gallery? Is it a shop? But the young staff of 20-somethings is welcoming and ready to answer any and all questions.
A large bar, strategically positioned within view of the front door, sells juice and coffee. A nearby sign apologizes for the lack of food due to the latest round of COVID restrictions. The coffee is made from Swedish beans and served in ceramic cups made by local crafters. The barstools are covered with Lynk & Co’s own fabric sourced from recycled fishing nets — the same fabric used in the O1 SUV (which is located just out of sight in a chain-link cage, almost as if it’s an afterthought halfway to the back of the room).
Vintage Japanese sneakers, local skateboards, chic sunglasses, custom denim, and bespoke jewelry are displayed throughout, on a melange of tables made from newspapers and crushed cars. A changing room, across from a private movie area hidden beneath the bleachers, is brightly lit in a blue and white cloud motif, specifically for Instagram. Everything is awash in moody lighting and ambient music, and everything is for sale, right on down to the giant sectional sofa. The entire layout is littered with architectural and design Easter eggs for members to discover.
The bathroom deserves special mention as it epitomizes Lynk & Co’s whimsical approach with a series of gags. Entering reveals a room of unlabeled doors, not unlike the Keymaker scene in The Matrix Reloaded. Some reveal a useable washbasin or toilet; others reveal a door within a door within a door... I found it charming.
The Club takes some risks that pay off, in my opinion, and seems well-suited to getting the message out. Whether enough people decide to act on that message to become paying members or members who rent is something else entirely.
Visser seems fond of taking risks, even in this late stage of his career. And so far, he’s managed to keep Geely and Volvo on board with his refreshing approach. “‘Alain are you sure this is going to work? Isn’t there a risk?’” Visser says of the questions asked by Lynk & Co’s owners. “I always have the same answer: ‘the risk of doing the same as all the others and ending up being better is much bigger than the risk of doing something totally different.’”
Lynk & Co is definitely different, but we won’t know if it’s better until the cars start arriving in April and we see if they’ve attracted enough members to start making a difference with sharing.