Brand awareness is a key challenge facing Polestar as Volvo’s electric performance car marque launches in Canada. But retailers say its urban-focused and digital-first marketing strategy will help them compete in the segment dominated by Tesla.
“We decided this would be a gamble that we were willing to take, and it made sense because Vancouver is a big city, and British Columbia is a very big part of electric-driving communities,” said Peter Trzewik of the British Columbia-based GAIN Group.
“We see every single day in traffic more Teslas than probably anywhere else in Canada, so it was one of those things where the pros are outweighing the cons by a long shot.”
Trzewik and partner Sylvester Chuang — along with Paul Cummings, owner of Toronto-based Grand Touring Automobiles — in July were chosen as Polestar’s first retail partners in Canada.
GAIN Group will represent Polestar in British Columbia, while Grand Touring Automobiles will cover Ontario and Quebec. Cummings was awarded the Quebec market after the dealer initially chosen, Groupe Park Avenue, bowed out when Polestar declined its request to delay the launch because of the pandemic.
Retail outlets will be located in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
Polestar, owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, launched its first car in 2019, the Polestar 1, a hybrid with a base price of $197,000, including destination charges. The brand’s volume car, the Polestar 2, is a five-door fastback with a list price of $71,800, including $1,900 destination. It entered the market this year.
Neither vehicle is eligible for federal rebates or provincial incentives in Quebec and British Columbia because the price is greater than the ceiling of those programs.
The Polestar 2’s main rival is the Tesla Model 3, particularly the long-range dual-motor allwheel-drive model, with a list price of $64,990, including destination.
But, Polestar spokesman John Paolo Canton said, “We expect most of our conquest customers to come from other premium European brands.”
Other competitors are entering the performance EV segment, including the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Cadillac Lyriq.
Trzewik said Polestar’s marketing strategy combines the best of Tesla’s direct-to-consumer digital retail approach and Volvo’s traditional brick-andmortar business model.
Dealers will be required to build retail outlets or Polestar “Spaces” in high-traffic areas of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, but they will not be holding unsold inventory, said Hugues Bissonnette, Polestar’s manager in Canada.
“Every car coming in will be delivered to a retail customer. There will be no sitting stock as a traditional dealer would have.”
The showrooms, measuring 2,500 to 3,500 square feet (about 230 to 325 square metres), will house two or three vehicles and be staffed by noncommissioned “specialists” to assist customers with product information and test drives.
Polestar will also have authorized service centres in Victoria, B.C., and Waterloo, Ont., just outside Toronto. They are expected to be operating by the end of the year.
“Ninety-five per cent of Canadian Polestar owners and reservation holders live within the 240-kilometre home-delivery range of these Polestar retail Spaces,” Bissonnette said. “With this coverage, plus the two additional service centres, we are confident that the Canadian market will be well-supported from day one.”
RISK ... AND ‘OPPORTUNITY’
Cummings said that operating in Canada’s two biggest markets is a huge undertaking, but it represents “a tremendous business opportunity.”
“From a product point of view, we felt it was a complement to the portfolio we have today. From a business point of view, from a cost infrastructure point of view, it is a little bit cheaper to do two businesses, and Montreal is a little bit cheaper than Toronto. It’s the size of the marketplace and the volumes we are anticipating to come from there.
“Our leap of faith was Polestar, but there’s a very strong business case for Montreal that caught our attention.”
Polestar will initially face an uphill battle gaining brand recognition, said Hyundai Canada
CEO Don Romano. The automaker launched the premium Genesis brand in Canada in 2017.
“People don’t necessarily know where to find them,” Romano said. “Even in a digital age, it’s still a challenge even to know how do you spell ‘Polestar.’
“They’re going to have to work to build their brand. Genesis is a new luxury brand, and we have to work and prove every day why we are better” than the competition.
Polestar will begin a global marketing plan centred on digital platforms, Cummings said.
“The sales process they are implementing I found to be truly state of the art as to where I believe this industry is going toward. Much more focused on a digital effort as far as the processes are concerned,” he said.
“We felt, ‘Let’s get in on the ground floor where I do believe the industry is going, and let’s see if we can maximize it and hopefully integrate some of their ideas into the future for Grand Touring and some of the other brands we represent.’ ”
Trzewik and Cummings said orders have already been received for their regions through the Polestar portals, which allow customers to configure their own cars from a list of options.
“There seems to be enough buzz on social and online marketing because journalists from other parts of the world have driven them,” Trzewik said.
“Right now, I’m watching people buying in Vancouver [through the website]. It seems to already have a momentum, and yet very few people should know about Polestar because we haven’t exposed it.”