The Swedish car firm Volvo and its Chinese parent company Geely have unveiled a bold attempt to get a head start in the electric vehicles manufacturing race with the launch of a new mass market hybrid electric sports car.
The 600 horse-power Polestar 1, described as “an electric car supported by a traditional internal combustion engine”, was unveiled on Shanghai on Tuesday.
The car was designed in Sweden but will be built in Chengdu, western China, from next year and is expected to be on the roads by mid-2019.
Zhejiang Geely acquired the stumbling Volvo from Ford for $1.5bn ($1.13bn) in 2011, in the first takeover of a premium Western car brand by a Chinese company.
They plan to make Polestar, currently the name of Volvo’s performance range, a separately-branded electric performance car brand.
The two companies also say future Polestars will be fully electric, rather than hybrids.
The most high-profile competitor to the Polestar in the mass electric performance market at the moment is Elon Musk’s Tesla Model 3, which already has 500,000 pre-orders.
The Tesla 3 has a starting price of around $35,000 ($26,400). No Polestar 1 price has yet been released, but it is expected to be in the region of €130,000. Future models are anticipated being closer to the Tesla 3 price.
Volvo announced in July that all its new cars launched from 2019 onwards would be entirely electric or hybrids, becoming the first major manufacturer to announce it would be dropping internal combustion engine only vehicles.
Major European carmakers, including BMW, Renault-Nissan and VW, have also outlined plans to ramp up their electric cars production. National governments, concerned about carbon emissions and public health, are also encouraging the electric transition through grants and regulation.
Manufacturers also recognise that the image of the internal combustion engine vehicles among the general public has been gravely damaged by the VW diesel emissions test cheating scandal.
The Polestar 1, a left-hand drive two-door coupe, can travel up to 150km on electric power alone and can deliver 600hp of torque.
The company expects to construct a maximum of 500 Polestar 1s a year in Chengdu, but to scale-up for future all-electric models. “Our vision [is] of being the new standalone electric performance brand,” said Thomas Ingenlath, Polestar chief executive.
When Li Shufu’s Geely, which also owns UK black cab maker Manganese Bronze, acquired Volvo its goals were to use the Swedish group's technology, dealership network and global brand to push Geely outside China while doubling Volvo’s sales in China. Around 20 per cent of Volvo's sales are now in China, the world's biggest car market.
The company also hopes the Polestar will prove popular in China, where Mr Ingenlath said the company has good contacts with the national government due to its Chinese ownership.
The manufacturers are planning to sell the vehicle under an innovative new ‘subscription’ payment method, where a two to three year monthly payment gives the customer not only the use of the car but various maintenance and insurance services.
"The Polestar is definitely a car that would not be limited to early adopters," Mr Ingenlath told The Independent. "This is actually for people who might have always bought combustion engine cars but they love the performance of this car."
Stressing the environmentally friendly nature of electric vehicles, he added: "In future a car emitting exhaust fumes will be just as unacceptable as smoking in public."
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