Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath has grown frustrated with defending Volvo’s decision to launch a stand-alone electrified brand.
“How long will we have to explain that it's not a crazy idea to create a new electric car company,” asked Ingenlath, who has led Polestar since its creation in mid-2017. “That type of discussion has me fed up. We shouldn't still be questioning this.”
Ingenlath believes the industry, government, consumers and even the media need to do more to accelerate the shift to emissions-free driving. That way the discussion about becoming carbon neutral can evolve. He explains why in an interview with Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc.
Why do you feel the shift toward electrified cars is stuck in first gear?
The pace and the way electrification is being implemented is not satisfying and it's certainly too slow. We really should be talking about the next step.
What needs to change?
Three parties have to get together for electrification to gain speed and become real: the automotive industry, politicians and consumers. This problem does not get solved if just one party is taking action. It requires that all three are convinced it is the right thing to do and they should work to make it happen.
Why should the automotive industry do more?
The industry needs to be involved for two reasons. One is the broader picture of climate change. We have to stop it. We can stop it, but only if we act quickly. The other reason is economics. Some big companies worry about the risk they might expose themselves to by moving too fast into electrification. I think it's the complete opposite. The risk comes from being too slow.
What do you want from politicians and consumers?
For the politicians, the question is: What are you waiting for? Why haven't you put the laws and regulations in place that really make it possible for the third party, the consumer, to do what they, in a way, know they have to do. Of course, not everybody can switch because electrification is still too much a question about whether you afford it. Politicians can change that. Norway provides an example of what regulations would need to be put into place to support this. [Helped by generous tax incentives and exemptions from various fees, electric cars accounted for half of all new-car sales in Norway last year.]
Audi has had to pause production of the e-tron full-electric car in Belgium because of a shortage of batteries. Does this problem concern you since you will soon be launching your first high-volume car, the Polestar 2?
Isn't the root cause of this battery shortage a question of where you put your money? Investments have to be made. We always talk about the big numbers needed to create battery [production] lines. And while these look like big numbers, they are small in comparison with the money that is still being spent to keep today's technology on the road and what is being invested into next-generation gasoline or diesel drivetrains. It's true that you cannot do everything and you have to invest wisely, however, building up battery capacities is clearly a question of putting the money, into the right technology.
That means you don’t believe battery shortages are to blame for slow sales of the Mercedes-Benz EQC and the near collapse of sales of Smart since it became a full-electric only brand?
We are not at a point where it's impossible to buy an electric car. There are a number of models out there. Also, the current battery shortage is certainly not what will stop the move to electrification. For the Polestar 2 we already have the battery volumes sourced.
In 2019, the Tesla Model 3 became Europe’s No. 1 EV, outselling its closest competitor, the Renault Zoe, by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Is that encouraging news since the Polestar 2 will be a direct competitor to the Model 3?
That is certainly encouraging for us. But going back to my first point, it should also be very alarming to the automakers that still, despite lots of talk, do not embrace electric mobility wholeheartedly and are not taking the required steps. The success of a company that is fully dedicated to electric mobility is something other automakers should take notice of because it is a very good example of the economic success that is possible from betting on the right technology. This underlines the point I'm making, which is, let's stop just talking about electric mobility. Let's admit that it is the future, so it's time to act. Don't hesitate. Go for it wholeheartedly.
Could you explain why you also believe the media could do more to accelerate the shift to emissions-free driving?
The media often portrays something like Volkswagen Group’s shift toward electrification as a big gamble. Those are the headlines we see. What if it was the opposite? What if the question was: Is it enough? What if it was portrayed as a risk that the company isn't doing more? That shift of perspective is what I am so desperately waiting for and now really asking for. It’s why I’m being a bit more aggressive about saying, “Come on, guys, how long will we have to explain that it's not a crazy idea to create a new electric car company.” That type of discussion has me fed up. After all this time we shouldn't still be questioning this.
How long have you been hearing that EVs will never succeed?
Since the very first day that the Tesla Roadster was out at the VW r&d center when I was still working there [Ingenlath worked at VW Group brands including Audi, Skoda and VW from 1991 until March 2012 when he moved to Volvo as head of design]. Engineers told me, “Oh no, that will never work.” Now, every week somebody tells me that company [Tesla] will be dead soon. That has been going on for years. That is where my frustration comes from.
This year automakers in Europe need to reduce their average fleet CO2 to 95 grams per kilometer. The level drops to 59g/km by 2030. Hasn’t this helped brands such as Polestar?
Just reducing CO2 is the wrong focus. Let's face it. The question is not about reducing CO2, it's about removing it. The car that produces no CO2 is what we should be striving for. Therefore, we should be beyond talking about the merits of electro-mobility. That should be a given so we can start talking about how we tackle CO2 reduction during production. How do we remove it from the supply chain? Why don't we have more green energy available? What are we doing about reducing plastic waste and using more recycled materials in cars? Those are the topics we should be talking about.
What are the dream results you would like to see from speaking out about this topic?
Everybody shifting the money they would have spent on developing next-generation combustion engines into, for example, building the necessary battery capacities. Politicians creating legislation that makes it possible for an adequate charging infrastructure to be up and running before the end of this year. Consumers deciding to trying an electric car because once they drive an EV they will not switch back. There's no excuse anymore to delay this. Go for it -- 2020 is the year.