Polestar to become a separate high-performance brand

From the Volvo press release:

"In the future, Polestar will offer Polestar branded cars that will no longer carry a Volvo logo, as well as optimisation packages for Volvo’s range of cars under the Polestar Engineered brand.

Polestar will enjoy specific technological and engineering synergies with Volvo Cars and benefit from significant economies of scale as a result of its connection to Volvo. These synergies will allow it to design, develop and build world beating electrified high performance cars."

Above: The new Polestar logo.

Whilst it's unclear as to whether the models sold under the Polestar brand will be derivatives of existing Volvos or new, independently developed models, this is a positive step for the marque. Newly launched Volvos such as the XC90, S90, V90 and XC60 are evidence of a renaissance for the brand, which has developed a 'differentiated premium' image through a focus on honest design, advanced safety features, autonomous driving and electrification. Through its T8 powertrain, Volvo remains the only brand where the most powerful, top of the range Volvo currently available is a plug-in hybrid. Separating Polestar to focus on performance electric vehicles creates further differentiation from the mainstream 'big three' German trio of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, and is a relatively unique proposition that is perhaps matched only by Tesla.

These are exciting times for the automotive industry, and with manufacturers being bold enough to explore new avenues such as autonomous driving and electric vehicles, the potential for innovation and change in the industry is greater than ever before.     

Build from scratch or convert to an electric vehicle?

Rachel Burgess, writing for Autocar:

"Which is wisest? The use of a single electric platform must make engineering infinitely easier, rather than heavily adapting existing architectures. But the obvious upside of offering electric variants of existing models is the equity of that model’s name. Aren’t you much more likely to buy a well-regarded model that just happens to have an electric powertrain rather than an unknown?"

Re-engineering a combustion engine car to fit an electric powertrain appears to be the pragmatic option in terms of retaining brand awareness and minimising the cost and time taken to develop the car. In 2020, the ordinary consumer will know exactly what a VW e-Golf is; namely a compact, affordable five door hatchback with an electric powertrain. How many of those consumers, in contrast, will know what a VW I.D. is? I would wager far less than the e-Golf.

What is even more clear, however, is that the electric powertrain is fundamentally different from that of a combustion engined car. A car with a powertrain so different from its combustion engined counterpart must, in turn, be built from scratch in a fundamentally different manner in order to reap the maximum benefits of the electric powertrain.

Consider the remarkable Tesla Model S, for example. The Model S is able to offer peerless acceleration and best in class safety and practicality (with a 'frunk' and large rear boot) because, not despite, it being been built and designed from the ground up for an electric powertrain. Could Tesla have saved time and money buying an existing, conventional mid-size platform and chassis from any number of manufacturers and then refitting an electric motor, akin to the original Tesla Roadster? Of course. But would it have enabled the same levels of practicality, performance and safety as a new, specially engineered ground up design? Most likely not.

The Tesla story goes to show that tailored design and engineering can create a substantially better product than an ostensibly easier 'swap engine for electric motor' approach. Famously, Tesla has undertaken little to no marketing of the Model S. How often do you see a print, television or web advertisement of a Tesla vehicle? Yours truly has certainly never seen one, and yet the Model S and upcoming Model 3 are the talk of the town. For Tesla at least, the fact of the matter is that its approach to electric vehicle design and engineering has developed vehicles so substantively better than the competition that traditional marketing is unnecessary and word-of-mouth alone is enough. 

Word-of-mouth has long been known to be the most effective form of marketing. After all, are you more likely to believe a company's own advertisement or the recommendation of a trusted friend or family member? Ultimately, this solves the challenge posed by Burgess in the quoted Autocar article. With tailored design and engineering producing a substantially better product, the car will market itself and eventually create a greater brand equity than if the manufacturer had chosen a conventional 'engine swap' approach.

Kia Stinger designer interview (Autocar)

Steve Cropley, reporting for Autocar:

"Standing next to the new Stinger, the key facets of the layout become obvious: the long bonnet, the short front overhang, the low roof of a cabin pushed to the rear and, above all, the generous dash-to-axle dimension that clearly advertises the fact that there’s a potent north-south engine in there, driving either the rear wheels or, in some cases, all of them.

Even for this emotional car, Guillaume says, there were numerous areas where design restraint was needed, such as leaving out a rear hatch. “We wanted the fastback look,” he explains, “but not the extra structure and weight of a hatch”. Likewise, they decided against an active rear spoiler because of weight, complexity and the fact that it would have introduced an extra rear shutline. But the original concept’s vents behind the front wheels were kept (Guillaume calls them “breathers”), because they have a genuine function in reducing aero pressure in the wheel housings."

Excellent interview with Gregory Guillaume, Kia's European design chief.

Design is as much about choosing what to leave out as what to put in. The Kia Stinger is the most elegant Korean car ever made. I'm glad Kia left that gaudy gold interior on the drawing board, though.