Polestar tackles softening EV demand with new technology and next-generation vehicles

Polestar this week showed its vision for the future: new tech and next-generation vehicles that the Swedish EV company owned by China’s Geely Holdings hopes will stimulate sales and stimulate a time of growth.

The inaugural Polestar Day event in Los Angeles – designed to sell investors and journalists on its potential for a profitable future – was a stark contrast to the present. Just a day before, the company revised its outlook, cut delivery targets for 2023, announced a new investment from Volvo and Geely, and told the market that it would need more It will fund another $1.3 billion in external debt and equity until cash flows break even. even in 2025.

Walking that line between the company’s financial reality and its product aspirations puts more focus on the event itself.

“Of course, Polestar Day has a lot of meaning for us to actually describe and promote this innovative melange that is coming here,” Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath told TechCrunch in an interview. during the event.

And it’s a melange: The company showed the entire future line, including the Polestar 3, 4, 5, Polestar Precept, the Polestar Electric Roadster Concept, and the Polestar Synergy. It also made some announcements that at least nominally combined its vision for the future and offered investors and journalists a ride on the upcoming Polestar 3 and Polestar 4.

Polestar Day 2023

Image Credits: Polestar

A focus on future models, ultra-fast charging, automated driving sensor integration, future vehicle-to-grid technology and announcements about manufacturing suggest that Polestar is using an all-of-the- above method of growth even though it faces headwinds.

Headwinds are huge. EV adoption has slowed, especially in the luxury market. The EV industry has been hit hard by high interest rates, tariff pressures to bring production to the US, economic uncertainty in China and two world wars.

Polestar, a small luxury, performance EV automaker, is in a tighter position – even with big investors like Volvo and Geely. The company has only one model, the Polestar 2, in the US market.

With a recent downward revision of global sales for 2023, all eyes are on Polestar 3 and Polestar 4.

Polestar 3 and Polestar 4 banking

“When we talk about what’s going on with this company in the next 18 months,” said Ingenlath, “These products are going to come out on the market and at the same time, we’re sitting down and making sure that we, in 2025, a profitable company that cash flow breaks even.”

The Polestar 3 will begin deliveries in the US in early 2024 and the Polestar 4 will go into production soon after, with deliveries in 2025.

Ingenlath said the company is counting on Polestar 3 and Polestar 4 to help it achieve its break-even goals by 2025.

“Polestar 3 and 4 are key movers; they are the core of the business,” he said, emphasizing the company’s focus on volume pricing.

First Rides: Polestar 3 and Polestar 4

polestar day 2023 ride

Image Credits: Abigail Bassett

The company offered attendees the chance to ride pre-development versions of their upcoming Polestar 3 and Polestar 4 on a short, 10-minute ride around Santa Monica Airport in stop-and-go traffic.

The Polestar 3 is the more “luxurious,” and larger of the two cars, with an SUV-like roofline, ample backseat space and a fully digital cockpit. It was also the first car the company built on a new platform. From the backseat the Polestar 3 is quiet, cavernous and comfortable with plenty of legroom and headroom. It has an air suspension that gives itself enough road feel to feel connected, without being heavy, making it agile and very light on its feet.

There is a vertical infotainment screen in the center of the dash, and a driver information screen attached to the steering column. While you control most of the car’s features (such as one-pedal mode and different driving modes), through the main infotainment screen, the headlight and windshield wiper controls are on the stalk within easy reach.

The Polestar 4 is the SUV-coupe in the lineup with a swooping roofline – believe it or not, no rear window. That non-traditional removal allows designers to give rear passengers more headroom and legroom, according to the company. The Polestar 4 has a slightly shorter wheelbase than the 3, but from the rear passenger’s perspective, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic – even without the rear window.

In the Polestar 4, the driver’s digital rearview mirror. The sunroof is behind just behind the crown of the rear passenger’s heads so it doesn’t look like a coffin, even though there is no glass behind the seats. The ambient lighting around the interior almost makes the lack of a rear window go unnoticed.

The Polestar 4 also gets a large central infotainment screen, but it’s oriented horizontally, instead of vertically and the driver information screen is mounted on the dash, instead of the steering column. There is no HUD in the Polestar 4, and unlike the 3, it has steel spring suspension. That set-up makes it feel worse on bumpy roads and translates to undulations and heavy-feeling movement for passengers in the back seats.

The technology and the ride experience are not the surprising part. However, it is the excitement of customers who joined TechCrunch in cars for future cars. A customer from Indiana told us that he had a Polestar 3 on order and during the ride he was so happy with the features of the infotainment screen, he couldn’t keep his hands off it.

Future batteries, V2G and automated driving

Polestar also used the inaugural event to promote tech partnerships with companies such as Luminar, Mobileye and StoreDot, a battery company that Polestar invested in last year.

Most of these tech partnerships, like its relationship with lidar company Luminar, aren’t new; the companies announce a agreement to cooperate in February this year and plans to include lidar with Mobileye Chauffeur technology were announced in August 2023.

The point, it seems, is not to make new announcements, but to show what capabilities these next-generation vehicles will have.

For example, the Polestar 4 has a lidar, which will support an advanced driver assistance system that will provide eyes-off automated driving on highways. That system, however, is not fully baked.

During the presentation, Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua, who was not present but pre-recorded his remarks, showed a video of a Polestar 4 using Mobileye technology to navigate a roundabout. While the car was able to successfully enter traffic, merge and exit without driver input, it wasn’t the smoothest execution. The video shows the prototype car stop and start as it enters a traffic curve, like an erratic driver. During his recorded remarks, Shashua said the video was recorded last week.

Polestar battery module prototype

Image Credits: Polestar

Perhaps one of the most interesting companies highlighted at the event is StoreDotis an Israel-based battery company that produces pouch cell batteries with so-called ultra-fast charging or XFC capabilities.

Polestar first invested in StoreDot in May 2022 and now it aims to incorporate a so-called “0-100 in 5 minutes” silicon anode battery technology into future EVs.

StoreDot CEO and co-founder, Doron Myersdorf, was on hand at Thursday’s event, showing a small model of XFC battery technology, which charges some cells to 80% in just in eight minutes.

StoreDot developed the battery cells, while Polestar, a “key investor and collaborator,” worked with the company to develop the battery chassis and liquid cooling system that keeps the cells fast-charging. below 40 degrees C–a critical point for efficient charging. . Myersdorf says the technology has been tested through 1000 rapid charge cycles and says there’s no more battery degradation than you’d find with slow charging.

“Slow charge and fast charge are the same for this technology,” Myersdorf said, “So you can get a warranty of half a million miles,” on the battery. He also noticed that the battery not only dies after 1000 charges but it only charges up to 80%. Polestar and StoreDot say they will show the jointly developed battery pack at full scale in a Polestar 5 prototype sometime in 2024.

Polestar also announced vehicle-to-grid or V2G plans in Sweden and California. The company has agreed to be part of a coalition of energy distributors and suppliers, home charging suppliers, and university researchers for a pilot project using V2G technology and a fleet of Polestar 3s in and around Gotenberg, Sweden. In California, Polestar announced it will participate in a pre-study to create a roadmap for V2G technology in the state. The Swedish project will run for two years, starting in 2024, and the pre-study in California will start in December and run for one year.

It’s still early days for this type of technology, and there are many hurdles to overcome – everything from legislative struggles to infrastructure. But if the V2G tech works as Polestar hopes, Polestar’s new Virtual Power Plant or VPP could be used. Polestar says the cloud-based VPP system will allow Polestar3 owners to put energy back into the grid when their car is parked–whether at home or out in public.

The way forward

As the EV industry continues to hold back, smaller automakers like Polestar need to act quickly to stay afloat.

Ingenlath says he is upbeat about the future of Polestar.

“We shouldn’t panic about the EV market,” Ingenlath said referring to softening EV demand, “I mean the important thing, how ready are you as a company to go through such a valley?” he continued. “We will definitely survive.”

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