The Polestar car designs I have seen so far are pretty easy on the eye. After the upcoming hybrid ‘1’ model, the brand moves on to wholly electric vehicles with, logically enough, the ‘2’. Nicely designed high-end and sporty electric vehicles, far removed from the earnest and rather functional electric vehicles of yesteryear, are something we are prepared for these days. And Tesla’s Elon Musk deserves some credit for pioneering a racier image for all-electric vehicles with that Lotus inspired electric roadster that Tesla began its long start-up (well, kind of) journey with.
Where will Polestar set up its first retail operations? Norway, or Oslo to be precise. It makes sense because Norway is something of an epicentre for electric vehicles. The government there has had all kinds of incentives and tax breaks to help EVs gain major market presence. Good on them.
Electrification does not come cheap though. As the auto industry contemplates electrification strategies, there’s a lot to consider in terms of where to invest, working with the right partners and so on. The transition from burning fossil fuels to batteries is also something that businesses need to have investment flows calibrated to. The sums that Renault-Nissan has sunk into electric vehicle technology are pretty eye-watering. And the first mover competitive advantage it hoped for is taking some time to be realised as EVs account for a stubbornly low share of the global vehicle market.
Are they coming though? The consensus is yes and as an OEM, you would not want to be late to the party either, especially if your powertrain options currently have a heavy diesel element. So, Jaguar Land Rover is right to have a clear strategy for electrification. It’s a very necessary step. It’s just a little unfortunate that the costly transition starts as the company hits a number of headwinds. It’s fair to say though, that JLR is not alone in facing them. For example, China’s car market was down 12% in September and a downturn in the world’s largest car market is a concern for many OEMs – and suppliers.
But vehicle electrification takes many forms. Commercial vehicles will see more interest as the performance capabilities of electric batteries improve. And some opportunities are already emerging. Ford’s electric delivery van in Germany is one such. Niche opportunity with a customer (Deutsche Post), check. Low-cost chassis-cab manufacture (Turkey JV), check. Final assembly site for powertrain and body (Cologne plant), check.
To step back and consider the very big picture, the motor vehicle sector’s contribution to global warming is not something that can easily be sidestepped (although there are bigger greenhouse gas sources, but that’s another story for another day). The IPCC report that came out this week sets out some conclusions, from respected scientists, that should give all of us significant cause for concern.
The auto business in Europe is well aware of its responsibilities and has turned in an impressive performance to reduce fleet average CO2 over time (helped in that cause by rapidly going out of fashion diesel). There are targets set, of course, and where these should be set is a matter for considerable debate. It would appear that the industry will continue to complain the targets are too tough (yes, we have heard that one before), although a compromise position appears close. Expect wrangling to continue.
Electric vehicles will inevitably be an essential part of a lower CO2 picture over the next ten years, their share rising as battery performance improves. Driving Polestars will be a small step in the right direction (and many, many more steps, it seems, are required to save the world’s ecosystem), but increasingly desirable electric cars are a sign – along with Ford’s electric delivery van – that the automotive industry is heading in the right direction.
Have a good weekend.
Dave Leggett, Editor, just-auto