Standing in front of the brand’s roadster concept, Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath says starting a car company is not for everyone.
LOS ANGELES — Thomas Ingenlath finds himself in the catbird seat of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — building a new car brand.
Many are trying these days, but few so far have been able to declare success.
“It’s unknown territory,” said Ingenlath, the lanky designer-turned-CEO at Polestar, a Swedish maker of performance electric vehicles. “And for that reason, it’s an adventure.”
Headquarters: Gothenburg, Sweden
2021 global sales: 29,000
Game plan: The electric automaker plans to roll out 3 new models and grow global sales tenfold by mid-decade.
Employees: More than 1,500, including 60 in the U.S.
Ingenlath was here last week to meet with investors ahead of the automaker’s planned IPO and to unveil a racy roadster concept.
Launching a new car company — especially in Europe — raised more than a few eyebrows, Ingenlath told Automotive News on the rooftop of a Beverly Hills, Calif., office building.
“In the U.S., in China, there’s much more of a culture of starting something new,” he said. “In Europe, people are looking at you like an alien. ‘What? You’re doing a new car brand?’ ”
But Ingenlath, a former design boss at Volkswagen and executive at Volvo, is embracing the role of entrepreneur. He likened the pace at Polestar to that of a Formula One racing team, where improvements and adjustments are made in two-week increments between Sunday races.
That “sprint kind of attitude,” Ingenlath said, is not for everyone.
“For some people, it’s too much,” he said. “That type of speed, the type of uncertainty, it stresses people.”
Polestar’s startup culture will now be put to the test as the automaker embarks on an ambitious growth plan that involves scaling sales to 290,000 by 2025, up from 29,000 last year, and reaching break-even in 2023.
To get there Polestar will bring two new crossovers and a large sedan to market by the end of 2024. And to deliver that lineup, Polestar will have to bulk up organizationally.
“At headquarters, we are around 800 people,” said Ingenlath, dressed in an open-collar shirt and jeans. “That is a teeny tiny number of people. There is not this mega-organization.”
But being lean is a feature, not a bug, he said. Without layers of middle management, decisions can be made faster, allowing Polestar to react more nimbly to market conditions and product challenges.
“You can do things that would be very difficult to do” as a traditional automaker, Ingenlath said.
Without a “gigantic” pool of cars on the road, Polestar can deploy over-the-air software updates more frequently, and with less risk, than if it had hundreds of thousands of vehicles.
But while Polestar lays claim to a startup culture, the automaker also has a weapon that most new ventures lack — access to the engineering, manufacturing and sales infrastructure of a deep-pocketed automotive conglomerate.
Polestar is part of an extensive stable of brands controlled by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which includes Volvo Cars, Lynk & CO and Lotus. The Chinese conglomerate’s network of global factories and R&D centers makes Polestar’s “asset-light” model possible, allowing the young brand to focus on product and technology, rather than manufacturing or logistics.
The Polestar 2
“Being able to use a Volvo production facility in Charleston, [S.C.,] being able to use a service network that is established with the Volvo dealers, is a completely different position than a company like Lucid, like Nio, who have to build it all from scratch,” Ingenlath said.
Geely’s network approach is mutually beneficial to the group’s brands.
Volvo and Geely “are contract manufacturers,” Ingenlath said. “They are contract developers for us. We are working very closely with [Volvo] R&D when it comes to developing the Polestar 3 and getting production ready.”
Polestar shares its battery management and powertrain development expertise with the group. The EV maker is researching a 603-hp e-motor and an 800-volt bidirectional battery pack. Polestar is also developing a bonded-aluminum platform that the company said delivers a stiffer chassis, enabling tight body control, high rigidity and improved driving performance.
“We never strive to do everything in-house,” Ingenlath said. “For us, a modern company is about creating a product in a collaborative spirit.”
Ingenlath compared the dynamics of being part of a large corporate network to living in a family where resources must be prioritized and partners might have conflicting self-interests.
“It can be joy and fun, and it can be hell,” he said. “To keep the win-win spirit alive is one of the big challenges.”
That dynamic will be tested as Polestar gears up for a key launch.
The Polestar 3 midsize crossover, which arrives in the U.S. next year, is based on a new all-electric platform developed by Volvo for its next-generation vehicles. Ingenlath described the Porsche Cayenne-size crossover as the “perfect hero car” for the brand.
So far, Polestar has targeted the market extremes with its two sedans — the carbon fiber-clad, high-dollar, limited-production Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid and the entry-priced compact Polestar 2.
But the Polestar 3 will be the Goldilocks model, Ingenlath said — delivering the right combination of volume and margin.
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