Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath: Innovation is the main driver

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With gasoline prices at record highs, it would seem like the perfect atmosphere for electric cars to finally make their leap from environmental and tech-focused car buyers to mainstream consumers. But many of the same supply chain issues that drive up the cost of gasoline and the price of traditional cars that use it drive up the price of electric cars even faster. Russia and Ukraine are two key suppliers of critical elements for electric vehicles like lithium, neon, nickel and palladium, causing the cost of these materials to rise drastically as the conflict continues.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen electric vehicle prices rise in an effort to maintain profitability, even as production has lagged due to supply chain issues. In this atmosphere, Polestar Cars presents its first SUV, the Polestar 3, while accelerating production in the United States at a factory in Ridgeville, North Carolina. The introduction of the Polestar 3 will be followed by the Polestar 4, an electric SUV coupé, and the Polestar 5, a premium electric sedan based on the Precept concept car.

Despite the headwinds mentioned above, Polestar expects a 10x increase in annual sales between 2021 and 2025. Part of this volume will come from a new agreement between Polestar and Hertz, the electric car manufacturer supplying 65,000 vehicles to the rental giant during the period. next 5 years. There’s also a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) vote set to close this week, infusing the company with additional cash while making it available for public trading.

With so much going on at Polestar, it seemed like the perfect time to speak with the company’s CEO, Thomas Ingenlath. With his design background, including over 10 years with the Volkswagen Group and 5 years with Volvo (Polestar’s parent company) before taking on the role of CEO, Thomas has a strong vision for the automotive industry. We spoke with him about Polestar’s current and future position within the electric vehicle movement, as well as the undeniable challenges of producing electric cars in today’s world.

UKTN: How does Polestar stand out in the broader electric car transition we are seeing?

Thomas Ingenlath: Two extremes play in this movement. One of them is the EV startup and the other being well-established brands like Tesla. And on the other side are the OEMs who have definitely worked and are getting into this game. Polestar is in a position where we’re totally unambiguous – we’re dedicated to electrification. We don’t have any internal combustion transmissions in our lineup – we definitely embrace and fully commit to that future. We also have connected cars with the great Google infotainment system inside. This is where we definitely have our clear, 100% belief in the electric future.

Now, when it comes to the EV startup scene and the companies that have come to market, there are a few that are trying to make their mark. We’re among them but I think with the 25 markets we have in place and working, and the product portfolio in the next 3 years bringing 3 new cars into our lineup, I think we have an incredible position here to to really be the fastest accelerating one and at the same time to be a brand that actually has meaning, substance and premium traits to it. That’s what we get in return when we see that over 30% of our customers who buy a Polestar 2 have driven a Tesla Model 3 before and want us to bring something else to the table beyond just having a good electric car and really knowing how to make the driving experience a premium experience.

UKTN: The growth numbers for electric vehicle production and sales are quite aggressive, and at least some of it is driven by government mandates. Ultimately, consumer demand must match this level of growth. Are you confident that the mainstream market is ready to support the growth rate of electric vehicles over the next 3-6 years?

Thomas Ingenlath: Look at the current situation where customers are facing fuel prices they have never faced before. Driving an electric vehicle has a long-term prospect where even daily use is much more economical and beneficial. For that reason, yes, it’s true, the government incentive might play a role, but I don’t think that’s going to be the major part of the purchasing decision in the future.

We definitely saw 2 years ago that the whole momentum was changing, and it might not be mainstream yet, but it’s really borderline and you see how more and more people who were completely on the side of internal combustion wanted to try electric cars. And once you’re there, once you experience what the day-to-day situation of driving an EV means, and anxiety isn’t something you go through every day, but rather you get a fully charged car every morning and no longer have to go to the gas station – it’s actually a super positive experience. and people who already have it are convinced by electric vehicles.

Now, how can we encourage this and will we be able to increase the production of electric vehicles based on this? There will be struggles along the way and supply is definitely something the automotive industry needs to build now for this new technology. But it has always been the main driver of innovation and progress. Innovation is the main lifeblood of our economy, so I don’t see that as a threat at all. I think we will of course invest and build the necessary battery production capacity as the demand for electric vehicles increases rapidly over the next few years.

UKTN: We have seen recent spikes in raw materials that have driven up the costs of all vehicles, especially electric vehicles. What impact has this had on the long-term profitability of electric vehicles? Are there any concerns that it will be difficult to make them accessible to mainstream consumers?

Thomas Ingenlath: I won’t say it’s not a challenge, especially when addressing the mainstream market which is much more price sensitive. We operate and build a brand that is in the luxury/premium segment. I won’t say it doesn’t play a role there, but of course the part that goes into the battery plays a lesser role in the total cost compared to cheaper cars.

Hopefully some of them are now at their peak in the crisis situation we find ourselves in with war and heavy supply chain issues. This is obviously going to loosen up a bit over the next 2 years. And we will, as an industry, need to research and find battery chemicals, ingredients and technologies that are less dependent on these expensive materials and find other mixes. And as a customer I think the race to have the highest energy density and the biggest battery in a car, he thinks we’ll see a different approach happen where you start to respond a lot more to size and to the energy density of the battery depending on your realistic need and your daily use. And the charging infrastructure and the improved number of charging stations will help you not feel the need to have such a long range.

UKTN: How is Polestar meeting the challenge of self-driving technology?

Thomas Ingenlath: We shamelessly abuse the fact that we can tap into group technology. Volvo is obviously very interested in the safety aspect of autonomous driving. The company that brings this technology to our cars, including the Polestar 3 to begin with, does so by combining the use of Nvidia-powered computing and Luminar LIDAR for an extra eye on the car, and software that brings really the two elements in good harmony. The incredible advancement in what you can achieve in terms of safety with this technology includes hands-free highway steering to allow the driver to step out of the loop and truly have a truly autonomous vehicle for the first time.

This is what we are going to introduce – this technology will be integrated into the Polestar 3.

UKTN: Beyond Polestar, what vehicles, past or present, have stood out to you as an industry leader and designer?

Thomas Ingenlath: Obviously, the cars around you as you grow up leave an incredible and iconic impression. I clearly have these 70s cars in mind. BMW, Alfa Romeo, the European scene which is definitely very strong. Let’s face it, the Polestar 2’s proportions make it a very compact kind of interpretation of the modern sedan. I really feel there’s a kind of romance on my side for this class of car that reflects that childhood experience.

What’s always linked are the memories of you and the context in that car. Being in a Citreon DS at the beach on student exchange – this car picked us up on sailing days and we pulled the boats with the car. A totally simple, iconic architecture and there are those moments that are still very present. Me fixing my first VW Polo, welding the floor myself and really learning about the technology. Change the clutch of this car and get under it. All this to learn how design and technology work together in a car. That, to me, is what’s fascinating about Polestar and this product. It is the close combinations of technology and design that go hand in hand. You can’t just make a fancy design, it still comes with hundreds of engineering questions you need to answer when you do. It’s something that I really like.

The P1800, the Porsche 911, the Bertone GT, the Alfa Romeo – these are of course great icons of automotive beauty that really impressed me. And yet, the idea of ​​large proportions is far more important than any sophisticated styling you bring into a car. This is definitely what drives me to achieve the beauty of our cars.

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