The conventional SUV is an environmental offender. Research in 2019 showed that the vehicles de second largest cause of the global increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade — even eclipsing behemoths like aviation and trucks. But Polestar is looking to cash in on the category by launching their third vehicle: Polestar 3. This is the company’s first-ever SUV – and it’s all-electric and backed by a serious sustainability belief. I was at the launch last week and got a closer look.
Sorry, but SUVs are popular
Let’s address the elephant in the room first. It’s an inconvenient truth for environmentalists, but SUV sales are on the rise. In 2021, SUV sales accounted for approximately 48% of the passenger car market in China. Also in Europe, car buyers are shifting from hatchbacks and sedans to SUVs 45.5% of the cars purchased in 2021. Of course, the US is king of this market, with vehicles representing 52.3% of sales.
The reasons for this are diverse. Car use has increased during the pandemic as an alternative to public transport. Car companies are also going all-in on more expensive luxury cars to recoup the losses incurred during the delays caused by the silicon chip shortage.
Or, simply put, people Like it SUVs. As Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath told us: “You can get in and out easily, you get great views from the higher seats and you feel cool.” In response, Polestar is on a mission to create what they call ‘The SUV for the Electric Age’. And it takes SUV enthusiasts for the ride to a greener kind of vehicle.
The Polestar brand was launched in 2017 and is co-owned by Volvo Cars Group and Geely Holding. In addition to the obvious benefits of an electric vehicle, the company is aiming even higher and plans to bring the Pole star 0 — a carbon neutral car with no carbon footprint — by 2030.
This is a big task that goes well beyond electrification, and the Polestar 3 lays the groundwork. For example, aerodynamic efficiency increases through the front and rear wings to reduce drag. And of course, the greater the aerodynamic efficiency, the greater the range of the EV.
Track material transparency and score
The Polestar 3’s interior trim is stamped with text that will display the life cycle assessment of the vehicle’s carbon emissions once production begins – part of Polestar’s commitment to transparency. These CO₂ levels will decrease year after year, the company says. Customers I spoke to at launch liked this feature.
Polestar was the first car to use blockchain trace cobalt in its batteries. Head of Sustainability Frederika Klarén told us that this also applies to the purchase of nickel and lithium.
The company also goes all-in on material recycling and circular design, and strives for circular circularity. In other words, it wants to reuse car parts to to make car parts. But there is room for improvement. According to Head of Design, Maximilian Missoni, cars can be taken apart, but this is not always done with materials such as aluminum.
Although let’s be clear, this car is not a green martyr. It is a good looking car that would grab the attention of any SUV owner. As one Polestar owner told me, “You can’t blame someone for buying a €90,000 car.”
The upholstery is available in vegan “microtech” (a material developed from certified renewable vinyl and recycled polyester textiles) and certified animal welfare yarn (from sheep slaughtered for food). You can upgrade to low carbon leather by: Bridge and weir if you must.
Raising suppliers’ environmental standards (such as their use of renewable energy) is important for sustainability, with a flow-through effect between industries. Smaller manufacturers can test their products in a demanding supply chain.
As Klarén points out, “sustainability is bigger than Polestar”, stating that all OEMs are working towards their climate goals, including calling on their competitors to set higher standards.
Polestar 3 isn’t just for newbies
Despite this, I am under no illusions that green qualifications are the main concern people have when buying a car. First and foremost, he has to drive well. The Polestar 3 brings decent Level 2 ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) technology like Corner Traction Control and Trailer Stability Assist. These will likely grow through OTA updates, but there’s nothing right now that places it as a major frontrunner in driver technology.
The car lacks an enveloping dashboard of, for example, a BMW, with a simple center display that reminds me more of a Tesla. However, a Bowers & Wilkins Audio System contains no fewer than 25 speakers for surround sound. There was even talk of a remastering of a Kraftwerk song for the sound system.
Luxury versus convenience
The problem with luxury SUVs is how their owners actually using their cars vs. how they think they do it. This is especially important when we talk about batteries.
The Polestar 3 has a 111kWh capacity with a range of 610 km. But the added value of a large battery is questionable when you consider that most people don’t drive their SUV for hours on end.
By comparison, the long-range 2022 Tesla Model Y has a 74 kWh battery and a range of 531 km. And the Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV (revealed on Sunday in Paris) has a range of 550 km with a battery of 90.6 kWh.
Personally, I would like Polestar to invest more in greater range in a smaller battery. The larger the battery, the greater the carbon impact of manufacturing.
Furthermore, while the Tesla Y and EQE SUV can carry up to seven people, the Polestar is limited to five, which somewhat dilutes the purpose of a large car.
And while Polestar is already working on the next three cars in the range, it has no plans to move from the luxury market to smaller, more energy-efficient vehicles. This is disappointing because most people don’t need large cars for their daily commute. On top of that, Polestar (and its partners and suppliers) are undoubtedly building some strong sustainability R&D that could be used to set standards for all vehicles and drive future innovation – if the price is right . It’s getting closer, but the brand still has a long way to go towards a carbon-free vehicle.
What does the price mean for discounts and incentives?
At this time, the Polestar 3 with a starting price of $84,000 (€89,900) is not eligible for U.S. federal electric vehicle tax credits under the amended Inflation Reduction Act which is limited to electric SUVs priced up to $80k. So there is no price drop there.
It is also unclear whether drivers are eligible for charging benefits such as the charge for free for 30 minutes offered by Electrify America customers for Polestar 2 owners.
However, job discounts can be more successful in the UK and Europe. I spoke to several Polestar 2 owners who have purchased an electric car under workplace schemes. One company had 80 people signed up in two weeks – so there is potential for traction in regions where such schemes are common.
But beyond that, Polestar has firmly established itself in the luxury market. This limits the purchase to people with a high income or those who qualify for attractive loans, wage offers or other workplace arrangements.
But how will innovation at the top trickle down to the cheaper car market? What percentage of buyers will be those who switch from ICEs? What do luxury electric SUVs mean for the future of the road (and parking)? Currently, these questions remain unanswered.
The Polestar 3 will enter production at Volvo’s Chengdu plant in mid-2023, with first deliveries expected in the fourth quarter of 2023 in Europe and the US. From mid-2024, production will also take place at Volvo’s Ridgeville, South Carolina plant.
So there you have it. An all-electric luxury SUV for those who love big cars and have the money to spend. It will not change the impact of car dependence. But it could inspire luxury car owners to be a little more sustainable.