The Polestar 1 is a limited-edition, plug-in hybrid electric sports car from Volvo’s new performance brand that costs $156,000.
Of course, you can get a fully electric Tesla Model S for about half that price. Back in 2010, Elon Musk knocked hybrids as “amphibians,” or transition vehicles for carmakers who needed a gasoline engine because of bad range, charging time issues, and battery problems.
The truth is that the Polestar 1 is just a stepping stone — and the company knows it. Eventually, the plan is to release the all-electric Polestar 2 with a 78 kWh battery and 275-mile range, all for about $60,000. (Polestar wants to later bring it down to $40,000.)
But for now, customers will have to settle for the 1, which is in production and scheduled to arrive next year. It’s equipped with an electric- and gas-powered powertrain with two rear electric motors, lithium-ion battery on the car floor, and a four-cylinder engine under the hood.
The Polestar 1 is a piece of the puzzle for the Chinese-owned Swedish brand, which pledged to electrify half its fleet by 2025 and offer electric versions of all its vehicles. Other companies have taken the hybrid-then-full-electric approach: Chevy with the (now-discontinued) Volt and then the all-electric Bolt. Lexus with its hybrid collection and a promise for all-electric options in the next five years. Volkswagen with its now-suspended hybrid SUVs replaced with all-electric models.
Most companies are transitioning slowly from hybrid to all-electric vehicles, possibly because consumers are wary. According to the “Future of Driving Report” from Adobe Analytics, about 60 percent of gas car drivers said they’d be more willing to go electric if there were more charging stations, and if EVs had longer battery ranges and were cheaper. Of those drivers, one in three say they are considering an EV or hybrid as their next car. So it looks like not everyone is ready to ditch the gas pump.
The 1 is perfect for (wealthy, spendy) people who don’t want to go totally electric. It features a hefty 70-mile range on its 34 kWH battery, and it can be driven in pure electric mode. But for the hesitant EV drivers out there, there’s a 619 horsepower two-liter gasoline engine boosting the total range to 540 miles.
While driving in gas-heavy “power mode” through the Bay Area hills last week, the battery couldn’t keep up or recharge and it eventually died with no juice left. Suddenly I was driving an internal combustion engine, with no ability to recharge without an electric plug. I felt like a fraud as I frantically tried to regenerate some battery life downhill while braking.
Instead of a silent, peppy electric ride, I was in a top-of-the-line sports car, but still the engine was straining up the hills and gasoline was burning as I pushed the accelerator.
Elon Musk doesn’t understand why carmakers aren’t going all in on electric like he did with the Model S and X in the early 2010s, and more recently, the Model 3. There’s not a drop of gasoline in any of his vehicles.
He considered hybrids as playing a “medium-term role” in the switch to sustainable vehicles.
“The goal of Tesla is to bring the future closer sooner,” he said in 2010.
Volvo itself plans to stamp out the plug-in hybrid. PHEVs, as they’re known, face an inevitable death as fully electric options rise to the occasion, drop in price, and become more mainstream. The Polestar 1 is self-aware. The car’s carbon fiber body, all-glass roof, crystal gear knob, and Plexiglas trunk window aren’t being mass produced, but hand assembled. It only comes with a short selection of customizable features, like five paint colors and three wheel finishes. This isn’t a car for everyone.
Once the Polestar 2 is out, its predecessor (only 500 cars are planned for production) will fade away. And that’s OK, because then we’ll have another all-electric Tesla competitor.