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Can Polestar design a new kind of car company?

Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath wants the freedom of an auto startup with the benefits of an established player

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Photo Illustration by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge

We are back after our week off, and we’ve got a good one today. On this episode, I’m talking to Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of Polestar, a new car company with close family ties to Volvo. Polestar has two models you can go out and buy today: the $150,000 hybrid Polestar 1 sports coupe and the somewhat more reasonable $60,000 Polestar 2 sedan, which has been getting pretty good reviews.

Now, Polestar is an interesting company. It’s effectively a startup with tight ties to Volvo, and Thomas himself is Volvo’s chief design officer. So we talked a lot about what kind of company Polestar is — it’s pretty small and has the ability to rethink a lot of things about how a car company is organized, while having the ability to fall back on a larger company if needed.

We also talked a lot about what makes a car company a car company at a time when everything about cars seems up for grabs. Thomas told me he doesn’t think of Polestar as an electric car company. Instead, he sees the brand as a set of “core values” about what a car is, with the technology underneath replaceable over time — maybe a long period of time. Eventually, Thomas told me, something else will take over from EVs.

But back here on the ground, the transformation of cars into rolling electric computers is just getting started. We also talked about some basic questions that keep coming up: how is the charging network for Polestar EVs getting built up? Polestar and Volvo have chosen to run Android Auto for the entire center stack. Why give up that part of the experience to Google? As cars slowly head toward self-driving capability, who should own the maps and navigation information? And how should we think about upgrading the computers in our cars over time? If you listened to my interview with Ford CEO Jim Farley, you’ll note that Thomas’ answers are strikingly different.

In fact, I’ll leave on that note: Thomas is still a designer at heart, and I think you can hear that when you listen to this conversation. You’ll see what I mean.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

There’s a lot to talk about. Polestar is a new car company. There are quite a lot of new car companies lately, there’s an EV revolution happening, but I want to start at the beginning. Polestar began as part of Volvo. It was spun out in 2017. You’re still using some of Volvo’s dealer network. You have some Volvo design elements. Give me the brief story of where Polestar came from and what that relationship to Volvo is now.

The relationship to Volvo is very simply put into a picture. It’s a parent company, it was born there and it raised its baby and it’s growing up and becoming an adult, and we are on the progress of moving out, earning our own money, and becoming independent. We will always be some kind of family, but of course we will develop our own life.

How big is Polestar? How many employees do you have?

Size-wise, we are still not at all [a] big fat OEM, despite the fact that we have two cars in production. We are still around 1,000 people. The trick here, and that is where the main business idea behind Polestar lies, [is that] we use elements that are existing in the family, like contract manufacturing, partly, as well as technology platforms that we’re using.

Of course, hundreds and thousands of engineers and workers are working there, but they’re not employed by Polestar. We do contract engineering, contract manufacturing, and have that type of asset-light approach to it.

Is that a different approach than Volvo? One of the core questions I have for you is: the reason you spin out a company is to get rid of some of the institutional baggage that has developed over a long period of time.

Is Polestar trying to make a new kind of car company and reset, or do you want to get better efficiency out of all the assets that Volvo has, but point them at a different market?

For us at Polestar, it’s definitely the speed and the way you can really build that company and make decisions on innovation, [and] how you set up your customer business. You can really do this in a small company much, much faster, and then embrace it, and the day that you [make a] decision, you can implement it immediately. That works so much faster here and you definitely have that advantage of a new company.

Having said that, at the same time you use [the] efficiency of the infrastructure of manufacturing and really bring that to a higher use as that’s a benefit for all of us. That’s really where, of course, it’s as much a win for us as it is for the big Volvo there.

Polestar has two models out now. There is the Polestar 1, a hybrid sort of sports coupe. It’s very expensive. It starts at $155,000. I just specced one out. I made it more expensive than that very quickly.

The Polestar 2 is sort of the more mainstream model. It’s all electric, it’s a hatchback. It starts at $61,000. Why start there at the very top of the market, when it seems like there’s a lot of opportunity for more mainstream electric cars?

These two products exactly frame the brand. Yes, we put the Polestar 1 as that highlight product, really showing the ambitious technology that we put in there and of course, a high price ticket. It’s a super luxurious car. It’s very low volume. 

A year later we showed the foundation, the entry ticket to the brand, where [the] Polestar 2 came in as this electric premium hatchback. That’s really where we framed what will be the playground of where we develop, now, the brand. The future portfolio that comes out now over the next three years, will fill the space in between. I understand that there’s still an empty space in between, but we have to start somewhere and we decided to frame it first and then start painting, rather than to start somewhere in the middle and you diffuse to the ends and you don’t know where the borders are.

Why do the hybrid at all? If you think the future is EVs, obviously hybrids are an interim step, but why start with gas-engineered cars at all?

We had that discussion, of course, in the beginning. Why do you have a hybrid at all in your lineup? In the end, [we said] “should we really be so dogmatic about it?” It is a car that has the longest electric range of a hybrid, 120, 130 kilometers you can go. For a lot of people, that car is actually a great entry into that electric arena. It helps people to actually feel comfortable about driving an electric car, people who might have never, ever thought about it before. They discover with that car, “Wow, actually the electric part is the really cool part about it,” and it was always clear. It is that one fulfillment of a dream that we all had, a super beautiful GT and the technology is awesome.

Hybrid is part of the electric journey. We will, of course, from now on have the electric lineup of the portfolio. Yeah, a little bit of an unorthodox beginning, but then again it’s the whole thing, the whole brand Polestar. It’s not just a marketing exercise where you do a perfect plan from A to Z. It is a living thing. It has its history, how it all grew, and I think it has its charm to it, that we actually don’t just simply do everything textbook. [We] give it a little bit more [room] to breathe, and at the end decided, it is absolutely in line with what the company philosophy is about and that’s why we felt at the end of the day, electric will be a certain period of Polestar. Let’s face it, in 50, 60, 70 years, we will still be Polestar, but technology might have changed again. 

That’s a really interesting way of framing it. The startup company CEOs tell me, “We’re an electric car company.” The big company CEOs say, “We’re on our journey to being an electric car company.” You’re not saying that. You’re saying, “We’re a car company and we have to adapt over time.”

Do you think of Polestar as an electric car company in the way that many new car companies explicitly frame themselves that way?

I totally believe what we create here over time is a brand and that is the core value. We create something that I really hope that in 100 years we look back and we think, wow, what a brand we created. And imagine if Porsche would have said, “Oh, we are a combustion engine company.” Then you bury yourself. Now, no. Of course you reinvent yourself and okay, combustion engines were the first, I don’t know, 50, 60 years, and now they go into electrification.

For me, that is of course a super important period. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Electrification is the topic of the time and I’m the first one to say, “Come on, we have to fully switch into that gear now,” but we should not think that [from] now till eternity that will be the drivetrain. It will be for quite a long time, but then again, what will happen in 50, 60 years?

“In 50, 60, 70 years we will still be Polestar, but technology might have changed again.”

Maybe there will be something else. I never would connect a specific technology as a core of the brand. I once had a boss in R&D and he said, “We are a proper company. We need a combustion engine factory, otherwise we are not a proper car company,” and already at that point in time, I thought, “What you create is a brand and the brand is the core value.”

Let me push you on that a little bit. For the longest time — maybe they didn’t know it — but companies like Porsche, Honda, what have you, they were combustion engine companies. They were organized around this big, heavy thing that you had to put in front of the car and it needed a gas tank, and it needed to vent the exhaust out, and they had to manage heat, all this stuff.

And the entire apparatus of designing and selling and maintaining their product was organized around the drivetrain and so, even if they didn’t know that they were combustion engine car companies, they had to build themselves around the reality of the core piece of their product.

When I talk to the CEOs of new car companies, they often say, “Oh, the old car companies won’t be able to do this because they have 500 engineers who work on exhaust systems who will be resistant to change and the opportunity with electric cars is to completely rethink a car from the ground up and to throw out all of the baggage.” Where do you see that balance? Because you have what is a fairly unique viewpoint so far that I’ve heard.

To a certain extent, of course, it is a problem to initiate now this change, from what has been a company that has been so entirely busy with making a combustion engine work in a car, which actually is very difficult because it’s quite a funny way of changing movement from going up and down into rotation. So, that has its problems. They solved it quite nicely, but of course it involved lots of people doing that. Both extremes to me are wrong. I mean, that combustion engineering, yes. You really need a big, big effort to change a company from that kind of locomotion going in that direction into a different direction. That’s a hell of a task and that’s, of course, our advantage, that we are not busy with that. We can fully concentrate on the new. Fine, but it’s again not just simply making a computer on wheels or a mobile on wheels. It’s still that kind of experience that you have to embrace.

And that has a digital aspect. It has, as well, an emotional and physical aspect. The car is a moving object. It is still, for mankind, an amazing experience that you can actually accelerate yourself faster than your own feet can carry you. That is still an emotional experience. Embracing that is about an emotional experience that you have in your car and that includes the physical, the digital aspect, and the senses.

You have to bring into the experience of the brand, and to me, it’s a much more holistic experience that is not connected just to the eternity of one technology. At the moment, how much we embrace and cherish the element of bringing your digital life that you enjoy so much into the car as well and make that seamless. It’s as important as having the electric drivetrain, like you said, that you actually have that ability to connect to your digital life in the car, as much as you do it whilst you’re cooking in the kitchen. That of course is one of the monster tasks for car companies and that’s still not solved 100 percent.

“The car is a moving object...That is still an emotional experience.”

That’s what we are all busy with, but there’s one big aspect as well, the customer relations which comes into the picture, and building a car company that is not always detached from the customer that much, and we experience that now fully. Having a direct consumer business is such a massive experience, you really are directly with the customer.

They come with all the complaints and with all the emotions to you and that’s great, but you have to cater for that. You have to be prepared for that, where until today all the dealers out there [were] doing that for you, now suddenly you’re in the direct business. So, these are all amazing new things that we as a young company are trying to embrace and do and that is definitely where all the OEMs that are out there still have to get onto that journey.

You’re a former designer. What you just said had a lot of design thinking in it, a lot of user-centric thinking in it. What parts of being the CEO have surprised you the most in that transition going from head of design at various places to now the CEO of Polestar?

Of course, bit by bit the creative part, being in the design studio disappeared, and now I’m only, I don’t know, four hours per week over there and being together with Max [Missoni] and Robin [Page] in the design studio. That I definitely miss. Having said that, daily work on making things, [keeping] it together, [trying] to make things that are impossible possible, every day getting things over that hurdle of, “Ah, but can we not do it like that because it’s so—” Every day I try to push for that. It’s the same that I did over the last 10 years in the design studio, trying to make designs happen where it’s such an energy to bring it alive and real in production.

And it’s still the same thing. But now on a bigger scale, it’s now about a whole brand and about a whole company, and to keep it together and really make everybody feel like, wow, this is our thing. It’s not a place where you come and people provide you with something. No, it’s your workplace. And if you don’t pick up that spoon from the table when you left it there, there’s not anybody coming. Feel that ownership and treat the company like it’s your own company. And I wish everybody in the design studio does it, and everybody here at Polestar does it. That is for me a big difference of people really feeling that much engaged and involved into it.

It makes me happy when I see people do it that way and feel it, and have that same passion for it. And it drives me crazy when I see that people come to work, who like it, basically, but don’t see that it has to come with yourself delivering on it as well.

I ask every executive who comes on the show this question. You are the CEO of a small car company that is connected to a very big company. You’re trying to launch a new brand. You’re trying to launch new products. You have a lot of decisions to make. What is your decision-making framework?

I [am] really trying to understand what you mean by framework, Nilay. Can you explain it a little more? What [do] you actually mean with that question?

I think that most leaders of large organizations have to make so many decisions with unknown outputs, there’s not a right decision. Every decision is balancing a trade-off. The point of my question is to understand how leaders balance the trade-offs.

As the leader of a large organization, you can’t know that you’re going to be right. You have to make a bet. No matter what that thing is, whether you are carving a clay model for a car, or if you are deciding how to operate your dealer network. These are just kind of repeated decisions or repeated tasks. And I think most people, even if they don’t recognize it, develop a framework for doing the things they do.

And one of the things that gets taken for granted a lot is at some point there isn’t a right choice. There’s just a balance of priorities and interests, and making that trade-off is very difficult. So that’s what I’m always trying to get at is, what is your instinctive way of balancing the trade-offs?

I guess such a long period of my life has been connected to making decisions within the design frame, where you have, at the end of the day, it never could be a committee decision. It is such a personal decision about deciding on which is the right way to go, left or right, model A or B. What do you do? And as much as you try to back up your opinion with maybe some kind of facts and figures that you listen to, there’s still, as well, a lot about a gut feeling. And the gut feeling is not about taste. It’s about really you judging about what the future will bring and out of the best picture that you can draw out of the information, and your sense for what is going to happen and bringing that into your decision. Just simply dare to make that decision and that prediction of what will be the right thing.

I’m not scared of that anymore because I actually noticed that you can rationalize a lot of things and explain, and I’ve trained that so much, to actually make that connection of things that you predict for the future and what, partly, you feel about where the trend is going, and how you can argue about it and how you can make a rationale out of it. 

Let’s put that into practice. What risks have you taken in rethinking the car and what risks have you held back on?

Well, that started 10 years ago when we, for example, decided to go for... The forcefulness strategy was Volvo to go for only touchscreen, when everybody was doubting that you could make a premium car company without a minimum of six cylinders, and that touchscreen… with sticky fingers and stuff on it. So that was one decision.

The other thing, definitely embracing the Android Google thing and going for that. And when the rest of the world was saying, “Oh, how can you dare to let them into your demand? They will all dominate it,” and stuff. These are decisions where you definitely have to make brave decisions, offering a car where you say, “No. Yeah, it’s a premium car, but do you need, for a premium car, to equip it with this leather standard? No.” There is a new premium and you can offer to customers who pay lots of money for it, new materials that are not necessarily a natural leather.

When we did the Volvo XC40, for example, everybody thought, “Ah, come on, just do a little copy of the XC90, XC60.” I said, “No, we don’t do just a little copy. We do something new. We do some radical new design.” When we did the Polestar 2, we said, “Yes, that is how a modern sedan looks.” It doesn’t look like a traditional sedan and that stance and that power that it has, it’s great. And my God, there were not lots of people believing that [about] the Polestar 2, why didn’t we just do another SUV as a first start? And I’m so happy about having passionate customers who exactly feel how great that car looks and stands on the road.

But I’ll tell you, three, four years ago, there was a very [small] minority of people in our management team who believed that that would be a great success. So there are lots of decisions where you are really on your own at that point in time. And you cannot go to a clinic and just clinic it because that’s so difficult to predict.

Let’s talk about the decision to use Android in the car. Volvo was early. Now, it seems to be what everyone’s doing. Stellantis, which makes Fiat and Jeep, they are using Android in the car, in the center stack. Ford just announced it will be using Android in the future. What is the balance between letting Google own what has become a primary user experience in the car and what you want to design?

Well, it’s customer benefit. If we promise to have a voice recognition that works, if we promise to have a navigation that actually knows that new restaurant around the block that opened a week ago, and they know already, they want to know the opening times when they put it into the navi. That is what we never can do on our own. That experience we can only do if you have a great partner with a great search engine behind it and everything. Do we give up that experience? No. People sitting in a Polestar don’t think that suddenly it is populated by something outlandish owned by Google. It is such a Polestar experience nevertheless. It’s a partnership. And that is where if you go, then, to Ford or wherever, it will be a brand experience there. That is still possible.

Let’s face it, on my Apple iPhone, I have Google Maps, and just because I use Google Maps, it’s not that I suddenly say, “Oh, but this is not an iPhone anymore.” So I think there, we have to be a little bit more sophisticated in how we discuss it. It’s not like suddenly the whole product experience becomes a Google experience. Yeah, there’s a part of it, and I embrace what they do for our car and it’s a great partnership. And I think there the expertise of both brands come together and create just a beautiful product.

What’s your data sharing agreement with Google like? How much data do they get to pull out of the car?

Yeah, that’s absolutely like on the phone, where the customer can actually totally switch, even within the individual apps, he can decide on how much data he provides and how much he keeps for himself. So that is where that works very much like in any phone setting, where you go in and do your privacy settings.

But the telematics that you collect about the cars, how much of that do you share with Google?

Well, it’s very similar. Of course, this is not like the whole software. The software that runs the car is, of course, an automotive software. The Google part is the entertainment part. So that’s where people have to understand it’s not like the whole software of the car is run by Android. That is really the entertainment part, where you go into the app store, the navigation, and all of that, is the Google Android part. While, of course, the whole safety-relevant, drivetrain-relevant, the battery management, all of that, the whole autonomous capabilities of the car, the safety, all that is our software.

The reason I ask is actually about autonomy. As cars begin to drive themselves more and more, as there’s more driver assistance features, things like maps become critically important to the operation of a car and telling the car where you want to go. And there is obviously a connection between your autonomous driving system and the user experience of telling the car in the center screen. The map underneath actually tells the car where it is and what might be coming up. And then the data that is collected to refine and improve self-driving. That’s a lot of layers that need to connect, and it seems like Google sits right at the middle of it for you. I’m curious how you see that relationship developing.

No, there is clearly a big, big distinction between what is the entertainment system, and okay, the navigation is of course sitting in there. But what we provide today with our [Pilot Assist], which has very much made that difference, we don’t call this an autonomous system. It is a support system where you’re still in the loop, but this is a software that is completely independent from the Google software. In the future, when we develop, in our next car coming, this to a highway pilot, which of course then will reach, as well, autonomous qualities, but you really can let go at some point in time. That, of course, is a system which is together with the software company here in Gothenburg, Zenseact, who is developing that, and we have Luminar LIDAR then for that. So all of that is on a completely different page where we develop this technology.

Do you think the auto industry should kind of give up on developing the infotainment stack? I watch every car review on YouTube, and every car reviewer just sort of waves at the center of the car and says it has CarPlay and Android Auto, and then they move on. I’m very curious, is that the end of the road? Is there more innovation there yet to come?

I think this has become far too much of a big, big, major question. Imagine in the past, we were always buying our radio from, I don’t know, Blaupunkt or whatever company there was. It was never the carmaker who made the radio. It was never a carmaker who made a phone. We just simply bring the stuff into the car, and I don’t see it as such a major thing. It definitely is not like suddenly this becomes the major domain. Maybe I’m too naive. Maybe I’m such a naive guy, but I don’t think that it is really this big devil that we invite to our table, and suddenly we lost it all. That to me is one.

And of course, it’s not as naive as saying, come on, we buy a seat from Recaro. I know that there is a bit more to it. Of course, we have to be smart and clever how we do the contracts and how much the user experience is still a brand-owned experience. And I think so far, my experience with Google is that they absolutely support that we have a brand-owned experience, even though we use their system in our car. And there, I’ve so far, over the five years that we [have been] working now together on that, have not had a negative experience, but I would be, now, more scared than we were in the beginning, rather the opposite.

One of the things that’s different between, I don’t know, a Blaupunkt radio in the ’90s, or a Recaro seat in a car now; those things are pretty modular. When I didn’t like the Blaupunkt radio in the old BMW I inherited from my mom. I just replaced it. I just took it out and put a different one in.

You can’t do that with a modern center stack. You can’t say, as the user, “I don’t like this,” or, say I bought a $60,000 Polestar 2. It has been on the road for five years. The computer is falling behind. Do you see a future in which people can replace the computers in their cars, the way that you might get a new phone or you might get a new smartwatch?

To replace the computer is a difficult thing. And in the past, it was already the same. To a certain degree, technology at some point will age. What is so great about the system today is that you actually can upgrade it and it can actually download new software over the air. And that is, indeed, an amazing experience. And that makes cars that can’t do that suddenly feel really old. That’s true.

But one thing that you can do, you actually can run different apps. And for example, one of the great things, you can go and use a better route planner as your navigation instead of Google Maps. In the future, there will be other navigation apps as well. So you can make your choices. And there are providers that come in from other corners that give you an alternative choice. You can listen to your music from Spotify. There are choices and there’s an open system where different apps are running and you can make your selection as a consumer.

Yeah. But the hardware doesn’t change. How long should a Polestar 2 last?

Designing a product for forever will be very, very difficult. That is where I saw some studies, and it is sometimes really, really difficult to keep a system that open that you permanently will try to upgrade it, and you at some point realize, well, it doesn’t economically make sense anymore because you start rebuilding the whole thing. And at some point, the physical elements and electric components, after a couple of decades, this is just not up-to-date. Fine.

So the capability of the car today to, through software updates, be renewed and adapt is actually a big, big step to keep the electronics and the car in sync with the physical product, and the batteries actually last an incredibly long time. The car is one of the long-lasting goods. You will replace your computer and your telephone far more often than your car. So, that the electronics and the software in the car became updateable over the air is a major step to actually make the car not feel old too early when the mechanics and everything are still working very well. So for that reason, I think we actually made a major improvement.

Nevertheless, at some point in time, in 30, 40 years, this car, after it having been a second- and third-hand car, might reach the border of where this is still appropriate technology. Okay. Fair enough, that we cannot stop.

Forty years is high. That’s much more than I was expecting. To be very reductive, if I have a five-year-old smartphone, I know it’s time that the apps won’t run on it. The processor is old. The battery might be decaying. It’s time to get a new smartphone. 

But with a five-year-old car, there’s nothing to me that says it’s time to get a new car. That car is probably still working just fine, but the software in it, the smartphone part of it, the center stack, is on the same pace as the computer industry. So now I’m driving a car that has a five-year-old smartphone in the center of it, and that part I can’t replace. Do you see that coming, that you’ll eventually be able to replace just the part of the car that needs to keep pace with the smartphone industry that it’s built on?

I believe in five years time, this is still a damn great product and the software and stuff will be absolutely still appropriate. That there might be a newer product at some point in time where you feel certain features and certain functionality is maybe more tempting for you, fair enough. Having said that, that doesn’t mean that your car being six, seven years old suddenly feels inappropriate, as I very much believe that that technology will keep quite a high value over time.

You talked a lot about the design of the Polestar 2 and rethinking it and making it look athletic. When I look at cars, the exterior design of cars can be timeless. Then you sit down in a car that’s 10 or 15 years old, and the screen in the middle is small and the graphics are bad. And you’re like, “This is dating the car more than the design trends of the moment.” 

You’re a designer. I’m wondering how you see that tension.

I don’t think that that is totally true. Culture at times is changing, and the car that is five, six, seven years old, definitely, you can tell that this time has passed into [the] exterior as well. They might be still appealing, and that is what I love about the car industry, that they’re actually not this throwaway kind of aesthetics and products. But nevertheless, you can always tell. So I think it’s pretty much in sync.

When I was choosing that profession of designer, I was actually not necessarily that car fanatic, that I could only have imagined becoming a car designer. But what I loved about that industry was that you actually spent that much decent time to make a product really, really mature and great, and that you would make it not age that quickly, that you actually cherish that it’s quite a lot of money that it costs, and it should last a long time.

That aspect, we still value quite highly here in the car industry. I feel on pretty safe ground there. And we’d rather have that attitude, how you will build a house and how you invest into a house, and that you respect that this is something where you put lots of resources and stuff in, and that you try to make it really long-lasting. I think that’s a really good aspect of the car industry.

One of the big things that’s changing in the car industry is our relationship to charging the electric car. I bring it up because it feels like one of those things that if you buy a Polestar 2 now, your experience in driving and using and charging it today will be very different than it is five years from now. That infrastructure is building. Regardless, whenever we cover any car that’s not a Tesla, our readers come to us and say, “Well, Tesla has a superior charging network. Why would we buy anything that isn’t a Tesla?” 

You talked about building Polestar as a brand more than a car company. Tesla is a dominant brand. It’s run by Elon Musk who says whatever he wants on Twitter whenever he wants. So there’s a brand element to competing with Tesla. And then, there’s just a very tangible “people think their charging network is superior,” and that’s the reason to buy a Tesla. Tell me about charging first and then tell me about competing with the brand.

Well, once you drive an electric car, you realize that charging is, for most days of the year, not an issue at all. And for most people never will be, because they have it fully charged every morning in front of their door, and you actually have that advantage of never, ever having to go to a petrol station. That’s awesome.

Yes, if you do a trip to a destination that is much further away, a town that you visit when you have to charge in between, there’s actually, in most regions in Europe, I can tell and definitely within America as well, you will find that place. It needs a bit more planning at the moment. You have to make sure that you checked it before, I acknowledge that, but it’s definitely, today, possible to do that trip. There are situations, in wintertime, going to a faraway ski resort, yes, I see that there will be situations where it’s still a hassle and why not everybody is ready to drive electric cars and maybe if it’s their only car, that I totally acknowledge. We try to help it, but it will still take a couple of years until we have total convenience and for that time being, Tesla definitely has invested a lot of money in their charging network, but I nevertheless cannot see that that is the future, because if each and every car company on the planet would do the same, we would have a parallel network of thousands of charging stations and it wouldn’t work.

We have to, all together, work on an open charging network so that we really make a meaningful investment into the future and that’s what we try to develop and support, and just now made a really good offer over summer for each of our customers to use as well here in Europe. IONITY charges us a really, really attractive rate and stuff and that’s how we reached, already, a quite good status. I can see that discussion over the next two, three years will totally disappear because petrol stations will have to switch to provide electric charging and that is where, naturally, demand will create the right infrastructure. It’s an initial thing that we have to overcome.

Have you talked to Tesla about opening up the Supercharger network, about participating with them or having them participate with you?

Well, there have been talks in the past and I’m sure there will be talks in the future. They sometimes say they will open it and let’s see if they, at some point, really will do it.

Do you ever think of just going crazy on Twitter to compete with Elon Musk and build the Polestar brand the way that he builds the Tesla brand?

No, I don’t think that is my style.

How do you think about competing with Tesla as a brand? Tesla famously does no marketing. They’re a very different kind of company.

You have to be authentic and, that’s maybe his way of being authentic, and fine, we have to be our way authentic, and we have to be as a brand as authentic as possible and I think we should never, ever try to imitate somebody [but] to see, who are we? Let people participate in our story and that is, I think, what we really followed the way of the last years, that we make people understand why we’re doing things, what we believe in, and try to share the joy and the passion about what we create and try to make that better with the people giving us feedback. That’s our way and we are not a brand that would put a specific person into the limelight for us.

It’s a different way of building it, and having said that, it’s still fairly individual and I think a colorful brand. I think that we will never [be] shy of expressing an opinion. We went very bold out and declared the end of the combustion age and said goodbye to that. We were very bold in declaring that it’s our way, going with Google Android. We have very clearly stated that we dislike the way of compensating for CO2 emissions, that we truly believe that the way to zero emissions is something that we have to do without compensation and really make it happen over the next nine years that we have a zero emission car. I think that’s where we made our points and feel that we built our brand around these beliefs.

How much do you think you have to pay attention to the broader political and regulatory climate? You have called carbon offsets a cop-out. You say you’re just going to build a zero-emissions car without buying any offsets. It looks like the Biden administration is going to approve an infrastructure plan that doesn’t have as much money in it for EV charging as people had initially hoped. Is that stuff you’re tracking and responding to? Is that stuff you think that the broader industry will have to react to?

I think we, of course, have to take part in the discourse. We cannot shy away from that. We are not politicians. That’s their job, but definitely us as a company in the industry, we have to have our opinion and make sure we have our voice in it and that’s where we participate in the discourse, where we express our opinion and definitely try to push and say, “Come on guys. We cannot always play safe.” We have to have a position. For example, when we made our life-cycle assessment of the Polestar 2 public, I mean, of course, it was a step where we knew that people will abuse these arguments against us and where we say, “Yeah, come on, we have to survive that.”

It’s not a short-term thing. We have to take that fight, that discussion and it might not always be sunshine, but we cannot shy away from that. It’s definitely needed and we always said the car industry has to face reality and we have to be, for our customers, clear in our opinion and transparent about it. I think that is what people definitely expect from a modern brand, that you don’t put your head into the sand and just try to be as smooth as ever.

You’ve mentioned before in previous interviews that you didn’t have any major consumer impact or cancellations through the pandemic, which is great, but one of the big issues coming out of the pandemic is the chip shortage, which is hitting the auto industry particularly hard. How has that affected Polestar?

So far so good, but it’s definitely an issue and it is a week-by-week review of where we are, do we have the pieces together for the production? It’s definitely not predictable over the course of the next weeks and months how much the effect will be or not. This is definitely where the whole industry is in incredible difficulty in planning. [It] became a short period where you can do your planning, that it is absolutely difficult to have any prediction how it will play out over the course of the next half year. So far, we managed together with Volvo to get halfway decent through it, but definitely we have, as much as everybody else in the industry, to really monitor it week after week while we keep the production together.

Has that affected your plans for the Polestar 3? Which I think last I checked, late 2021 was the date. Are you still on track for the Polestar 3?

Yes. We are on track with Polestar 3. That has not affected the plans for that car.

And the Polestar 3 is your SUV, correct?

Yes. The Polestar 3 will be our first SUV in the car line and using that new electric platform that will be out and first with this car, and be a really awesome car. I’m so much looking forward to [it] for lots of reasons. As we said, “Look, this is actually the design statement, the direction where we are going,” and the Polestar 3 will be full-fledged in this great Polestar language and that will not be that standard SUV, like you know it today.

We really believe that the SUV has to change a bit when it comes to the electric age. You cannot be that high and upright in the air and at the same time, just making that coupe SUV is, as well, not our style. So, it will be a really nice, cool design statement. I mean, it’s an almost five-meter car. It’s a real big SUV for us Europeans. I know in the US you wouldn’t call it big yet.

You’re a car designer. What is going on with the front end of cars? You’re designing an SUV. Are you going to put a giant grill on it or those huge BMW nostrils? What is happening? Can you stop it?

Well, we will not go into that. The issue is of course, a car needs a face. You have to recognize the face, but you cannot just simply continue making this big open air intake, as a fake air intake—

But do you go to the bar with the designers at BMW and ask them, “Why are you doing this?” Do you tell your designers not to do that?

And they will come up with lots of reasons why that is good for them.

... It’s a small community, I’m wondering if you have insight.

Well, we will use the Smart Zone and that is what we showed, that you can see on the Polestar Precept. We said, “Come on.” They aren’t just sensors and cameras and radars, and we nicely collect them under that transparent shield and that will be, instead of an air intake, we will have a Smart Zone and it looks super cool and electric and high-tech. So, you have to go along and I mean, instead of just having no face, I mean, of course you have to create a modern face that gives the new technology a meaning. So, we collected all of that nicely in what we call the Smart Zone.

Do you think that car design will get more radical as we get away from the expectations around what gas cars look like and we go towards electric cars?

It was always a challenge to the designers to actually dare to not just simply continue on a path [where] your experience was successful in the past. I mean, that always has been the challenge that you have to dare to do that next step and yes, there’s no guarantee for success, but you cannot just simply recook the old recipe, and especially in times when you have the great opportunity of new technology coming. That’s always a driver of new aesthetics.

So, of course you have to embrace it and really dare to take it, but at the same time, not do it superficially and just create a fancy new look to look different. It has to be rooted in the technology and the need for it and how you interpret it. It needs a really thorough, intellectual process of working it into something meaningful. So, whatever superficial styling comes, it will never work in the long run. You really have to do a decent job and do your homework and really try to make sense out of the whole thing.

That’s great. Well, Thomas, thank you so much for being on Decoder. I really appreciate the time.

It was a pleasure. Thanks a lot.

Decoder with Nilay Patel /

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