VOLVO is in the midst of a reincarnation. The Swedish automaker is leaving behind its former life as the maker of super safe, super boxy wagons, and embracing an existence dedicated to technological prowess, electric propulsion, and svelte design.
So it was only a matter of time before the Swedish automaker confronted Tesla, the electric automaker Elon Musk built on those same principles. To prepare for battle, Volvo called on Polestar. If the name’s familiar, it’s because Polestar has long been the arm of Volvo dedicated to building race-ready cars , like AMG does for Mercedes. In June, Volvo officially revamped the brand, shifting its focus to the sort of high-end, high-performance electric cars that can compete with Musk’s motors.
Today, Volvo gave the world its first glimpse at the kind of car Polestar will be turning out, and the early impressions are good.
The newly unveiled, imaginatively named Polestar 1 is a two-door, four-seat “Grand Tourer Coupe,” set to start production in 2019. Volvo stole a trick form the supercar playbook, and gave it a carbon fiber skin, which is lighter and stiffer (if more expensive) than aluminum, to lower the car’s center of gravity. The styling is an evolution of the confident strong lines that Volvo displayed on its S90 sedan. The lights, fronts and back, emphasize the width and visual heft of the design. The inside looks plenty Volvo too, with the now signature stubby gear shifter, and long, elegant air vents. It’s not as lust-worthy as the teased interior of the Jaguar I-pace electric, or as sparse as the Scandinavian-inspired Tesla Model 3, but it looks like a solid design that should age well.
As part of Volvo’s promise to make only hybrid and electric vehicles from 2019, the Polestar 1 carries a hybrid gas and electric drivetrain. Like Chevrolet’s Volt, it will mostly operate as an electric, with two motors powering the rear wheels and offering 93 miles of range—far more than just about any other plug-in hybrid. When the battery gets low or the driver’s looking for some extra kick, the car will rev up its 2-liter, four-cylinder engine, which is coupled up to the front wheels. The total drivetrain good for a stonking combined output of 600 horsepower.
“The Polestar 1 is a performance electric hybrid, but with the longest pure electric range of any hybrid car in the world, we consider it an electric car with support from an internal combustion engine,” says Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of Polestar.
Volvo is just the latest to crowd into this space. After years of dominating the sales, and owning the image, of performance-happy electrics, Tesla is facing more and more competition from the traditional automakers. Porsche is bringing its gorgeous Mission E to market sometime in 2019. BMW is already boasting about the specs of its i Vision Dynamics concept.
Still, Volvo didn’t create Polestar, or the Polestar 1, just to eat into Elon’s tiny slice of the auto market. It’s working to stay competitive in China, the world’s largest auto market, where regulators are demanding a significant shift toward electric driving, and debating a complete ban on gas and diesel cars in the coming decades. Especially since Volvo’s parent company, Geely, is Chinese. After pumping $11 billion into the automaker over the past five years, Geely has promised an extra $750 million to develop the Polestar brand. Much of that money will go toward building a flashy new factory in Chengdu.
If you, too, like the look of the Polestar 1, don’t bother heading to your local dealer. Polestar plans not to sell these cars, but to rent them, via subscription packages. These will last two or three years (price TBD) and include all servicing, plus the occasional chance to briefly borrow another Volvo if you decide you really need an SUV for the weekend. Given Tesla’s years-long battle to sell cars without dealers in some US states, Volvo might face pushback on that.
Polestar’s second vehicle, the logically named Polestar 2, will also hit the road in 2019. An affordable all-electric (again, price TBD), it will directly compete with Tesla’s Model 3. Next comes the Polestar 3, a battery-powered SUV—because you can’t go wrong with an SUV.
It’s a bold new direction for Volvo, but one that’s set to put it at the front of the pack driving towards an electric future.