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Thomas Ingenlath, Polestar CEO
Volvo's Polestar brand intensifies Tesla challenge with 'powerful little beast'
Automotive News Europe | 2019/5/17

Volvo's Polestar subsidiary has signaled its intention to challenge Tesla's early leadership in the fledgling niche for full-electric premium midsize models. The 402-hp Polestar 2, which CEO Thomas Ingenlath calls a "powerful little beast," will go into production next year. He spoke with Douglas A. Bolduc, managing editor of  Automotive News Europe,  in March. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: How are you coping with the tariff situation between China where you will make your cars and the U.S.?
A: This situation is so unpredictable. We cannot make any decisions based on the tariff situation. On one hand, we have to be patient; on the other we have to work with whatever we have. The U.S. is more of a challenge with the tariff situation. That is why we announced we will only go to California at first and we would be happy to scale it up and make it bigger. But we need the right conditions.

What has been the response to the Polestar 2's debut?
Launching an electric car generates a lot of attention just because it's such a hot topic. For me, it was really nice to see that people understood it was a big achievement for our brand to bring out a premium electric car priced between 40,000 and 60,000. ($44,971-$67,456). That is not easy to do. At the same time, we maintained our ambition to debut a well-designed car that provokes emotion and fascination not just because it's electric but because it's an amazingly powerful little beast.

You expect 40 percent of Polestar 2 sales to come from China. Why will it be your No. 1 market?
There is a very clear commitment to shift to electromobility there. Just look at how fast China switched to e-scooters. It happened within a couple of years. Also, China is one big market with one set of rules. In Europe, we will start with six countries and each one has its own legal entities, sales structures and so on, making it more cumbersome.

What will be the Polestar 2's second-largest market?
It will be Norway because the country has a clear commitment toward electromobility.

How has the Polestar brand evolved over the last year with the Polestar 1 halo car and Polestar 2?
The Polestar 1 brought us a dedicated group of people who were really interested in electromobility and becoming a part of the brand from its beginning. But the product they were really waiting for was the Polestar 2. The Polestar 1 is the pinnacle of our brand while the Polestar 2 is the foundation. Because the price tag is very different ($174,000 for the Polestar 1), you attract a different kind of audience.

Have you sold out the entire 1,500-unit three-year run of the Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid?
No, but you will have to wait a bit longer to get one because the first year of production is gone.

Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson has said Polestar is looking for investors. How much time will you spend on this? Is this money needed for the Polestar 4, 5 and 6?
It's not for a specific car project. It is for the midterm and long-term ambitions of the brand. It is not the goal of our owners to keep the brand exclusive to themselves. They want to open it up. Of course, I will be involved in promoting this and speaking with potential investors, but it's not taking a lot of my time at the moment. That is a future project.

What are the best and worst parts of being a CEO? 
What I love about it is the energy that comes when a product, after all the hard work, becomes real. That amazing and rewarding feeling, which I got as a car designer and now as CEO of Polestar, is why you spend all those hours. The worst thing is definitely that I have to spend most of my time sitting rather than standing. Clearly, sitting in meetings eight to 10 hours a day is not what I desire most. I love to work in the design studio and the workshop. That is what I miss.

You are design chief at Volvo Cars. How much time do you spend on design? 
I always spend my Friday afternoon with Robin [Page, Volvo brand's head of design] discussing design. But that doesn't tell the whole story because I'm still very much involved in the design process.

Will Polestar leverage your expertise as a designer in its marketing? 
We want to make sure that all our communication about the brand is authentic. The presentation of Polestar 2 (on Feb. 27) was all about explaining the thinking that went into why we did this or that in the car and what benefits those things will give the customer. The challenge was to share in an entertaining and understandable way. The big question we faced was: How do you reach people in a loud and overexcited world?

How is achieving that goal different than it was a few years ago?
The digital age has made it easier for a customer to have a more direct connection with a brand. Nowadays, you have to do different things. And it's not just about money. It's about being creative and consistent.

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