Polestar is a name that has popped into the conscious of many car buyers over the last couple of years, as a result of its electric Polestar 2 car and plenty of advertising on social media. So where has it come from?
It’s one of a number of spin-off brands that have come from existing car makers – in this case, Volvo. The diversification of the automotive market has gathered pace in recent years as established manufacturers have launched new brands that are related to, but sit apart from, their parent maker.
This has been going on for a long time – Toyota set up Lexus as a luxury brand more than 30 years ago – but has been accelerating over the last decade. Often, but not always, this has been connected to the shift to electric cars.
In addition to Toyota creating Lexus, we have also seen Nissan setting up Infiniti (which has come and gone from Europe), Hyundai creating Genesis, Citroën spinning off its DS models into a separate company called DS Automobiles, SEAT creating a sporty Cupra brand and Volvo doing a similar thing with Polestar.
Never heard of Polestar? For many years the name was a badge hung on Volvo’s higher-performance models, but in 2017 it headed in a new direction, as a standalone sister brand that would market distinctive electric vehicles (EVs). However, you can still get Polestar performance upgrades on many Volvo models.
So far we’ve seen one mainstream model on the roads, the well-received Polestar 2, and there are at least three more on the way from a brand that is being directly compared to the electric standard-bearer Tesla.
So who or what is Polestar?
Polestar is actually a bit older than its association with Volvo. It dates back to a Swedish racing team called Flash Engineering in the 1990s, which was subsequently rebranded as Polestar. The name comes from pole star, which refers to the North Star that was used for navigation by Vikings in Scandinavian history.
As Polestar’s relationship with Volvo became more formal, the company began to offer uprated performance versions of Volvos known as Polestar Performance models. In 2015, Volvo went the whole hog and bought Polestar.
Polestar produced its own concept versions of Volvo models as early as 2010 but the first standalone model, the limited-edition Polestar 1, was unveiled in 2017. At the same time the brand revealed its plans to build a new reputation as a distinct marque making performance electric models under its own badge, using Volvo’s manufacturing clout but no longer carrying Volvo branding.
The new Polestar badge got the company into trouble as Citroën complained that the design, which employs two chevrons, was too close to the French maker’s famous double-chevron logo. The dispute ended up in court with the French firm winning, and Polestars could not be sold in France until the dispute was finally resolved last year.
When did Polestar launch in the UK?
The first evidence of Polestar as a standalone brand in the UK came in 2019 when the brand opened a research & development department in Coventry. But the first retail outlet, known as a ‘Space’, did not launch until October 2020 in the Westfield shopping centre in West London.
In a similar vein to Genesis, which we explored recently, Polestar doesn’t have a traditional dealership network. Rather, it has showrooms called ‘Spaces’ where you can view a car or arrange a test drive, but which don’t carry stock of vehicles. All purchasing is done online directly through the company, although obviously the showroom staff will be happy to assist you with your selection and purchase.
What models does Polestar have and what else is coming?
There have been three Polestar models so far, though the first doesn’t really count. The Polestar 1, with which the brand launched itself in 2017, was a plug-in hybrid GT coupé boasting more than 600hp. It was sold for only little over a year and in small numbers – and only in left-hand drive – and was actually based on an old Volvo concept car.
The only model you are likely to have spotted on the road to date is the Polestar 2, a mid-sized five-door electric car with crossover styling. It’s similar in size and price to the Tesla Model 3, and reviews contributing to its 75% score on The Car Expert‘s industry-leading Expert Rating Index generally rate the Swedish car better for build quality than the Tesla, but without the huge charging network the rival car offers.
Early in 2023 Polestar announced a substantial mid-life upgrade for the 2, which will arrive in the UK in Autumn. The update extends to more powerful electric motors, larger batteries and in the single-motor versions, even a change in layout from front to rear-wheel drive.
Before the end of the year, we should start to see Polestar’s third model, called (wait for it…) the Polestar 3. It’s an electric SUV with two motors producing up to 517hp and priced from around £79,000.
The Polestar 4 was unveiled in April 2023. This is another performance SUV designed to fit between the 2 and the 3 in both size and cost. It’s expected to go on sale in 2024, and most of the interest so far has been based around the car’s complete lack of a rear window (you rely on a rear-view camera instead of a mirror).
Looking even further ahead, there are two more models in the mix called – you guessed it – the Polestar 5 and Polestar 6. The 5 will apparently be a 2+2 GT, while the 6 will be a convertible.
Where can I try a Polestar car?
Not in Volvo showrooms – as mentioned, Polestar is one of the new brands pushing a ‘direct to customer’ experience, either by allowing potential buyers to carry out the entire choosing and purchase process online through an app, or by visiting one of six Polestar ‘Spaces’.
These Spaces are located in London, Bristol, Manchester, Solihull, Glasgow and Bicester – which is also the location of Polestar’s UK head office.
What’s particularly significant about this company?
Polestar is heavily into sustainability, basing much of its promotion around environmental concerns. The company even announced that by 2030 it will be producing “the first truly climate neutral car” – which means it will eliminate all emissions in the car’s manufacture and operation, rather than taking the route of other manufacturers of planting trees to offset the emissions produced making cars.
However, there have been recent hints that this date could be rolled back as it’s proving difficult to eliminate emissions throughout the supply chain.
Polestar boss Thomas Ingelmath, announcing the ‘design towards zero’ Polestar 0 project in 2021, dismissed carbon offsetting as “a cop-out”, adding that while the electric cars don’t produce tailpipe emissions in operations (electric production is another story, of course), the task now is to completely eradicate such emissions from production.
What makes Polestar different to the rest?
Polestar has one distinction that is not necessarily as positively embraced, however. The brand has a major tie-up with software giant Google for its in-car operating system, which goes above and beyond familiar systems like Android Auto. You get three years of internet connectivity through an 11-inch touchscreen display when you buy a Polestar and access to a range of Google apps and services – you even get a full-blown web browser called Vivaldi.
But there have been two criticisms. Firstly, Google is well known for sucking a huge amount of usage data from users in any devices where its products are used, meaning you’ll constantly be sending Google info about where you are, what you’re doing, how fast you’re going, and so on.
Secondly, until recently there was no support at all for Apple users. In summer 2022, a workaround version of Apple CarPlay was added, and in June 2023, Polestar finally announced a proper integration for Apple iPhone users through Apple CarPlay. This is rolling out as this article is being written, so we wait to see whether Polestar will finally stop treating Apple customers like second-class citizens.
Polestar argues that its tie-up with Google will ensure its cars’ connectivity “remains as cutting edge in future as it it today”, but it’s certainly been contentious.
Polestar is trying hard to establish its credentials as a brand known for its next-generation technology. Autonomous motoring is firmly in its plans, on top of its sustainability and environmental commitments. Most buyers, however, will want to simply know if the cars are any good, which will govern how familiar the brand comes.
The brand claims that sales are buoyant and the Polestar 2 is becoming a recognisable shape on the UK’s roads. Being directly compared with Tesla is a definite bonus, even if the Swedish interloper isn’t flooding motorway service areas with its own charging systems. Polestar is still very much a new brand but the early signs suggest it’s here to stay.
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