Working with another brand means there will be some corporate arm twisting, says Callum. The challenge is to keep any similarities hidden where possible: “To be fair to the design teams, they’ll be told to use a lot of similar components, like the touchscreens. But, for example, you should never use the same switches on the outer surface. We argued for this between Jaguar and Land Rover. Even though the mechanics of the switch might be common underneath, which is fine, the tactility and the feel of them must be different. These are areas that have to be protected.”
What’s important is how each brand presents its philosophy. After all, platform and powertrain sharing is nothing new. A VW Golf R shares a platform and engine with an Audi S3, with their design and ethos being the big differentiators. The former’s market positioning isn’t quite as premium as the latter, despite similarities under the skin. Looking a little closer to the mark, a VW iD3 shares its platform and tech (down to its woeful infotainment system) with the Cupra Born—yet the two brands’ images couldn’t be further apart. One presents itself as sensible, while the other is sporting. To go further, Kia’s EV6, the Genesis GV60, and Hyundai’s Ionic 5 all share a platform, rough dimensions, and powertrains, yet promise and deliver different experiences.
“Polestar is interesting because it’s a very similar product to Volvo,” Harrow says. “I thought when the brand started they’d be producing significantly different products. But with the economies of scale and the ability to share platforms, the inevitable happens, and they start doing very similar vehicles.”
“What they’re trying to do is elevate Polestar slightly above Volvo, so it’s closer to a premium brand,” Harrow says. “But the challenge for all these companies is, how do you create a new premium when all the products are the same? Materials are becoming less important. Digital enhancements are much more important in a brand now. So we’re in a different territory.”
Which brings us back to the EX90’s main party piece, its prominent, visible lidar sensor. Considering what Volvo’s about, this isn’t a surprise to Callum: “That’s Volvo’s attribute. They’re clearly not compromising the safety. If it means putting a funny box on the roof to do it, they’ll do it.”
Similarities are bound to happen as both Volvo and Polestar race to be the most sustainable, the cleanest, or the greenest. But for Callum it’s here where things get muddied: “The two brands are in the same space. One was created to be an electric version of the other one, but now they’re both electric. To be honest, I think they’re going to have quite a challenge. Polestar has to focus, perhaps, on the more joyful, sporty side of life rather than the practical, family-oriented side of life.”
Harrow agrees and cites the recently announced Polestar 6 as a first step in that direction. “Polestar has got a pretty different idea of what the brand might become,” he says. “And as things progress, it might start to pull away from Volvo. But I suspect at the moment, because they need to make it profitable, the inevitability is they’re sharing a lot of products and product sectors.”
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