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Polestar is Tesla's newest and fiercest challenger on the luxury EV market — here's how to buy and own one

Kristen Lee   

Polestar is Tesla's newest and fiercest challenger on the luxury EV market — here's how to buy and own one
  • Polestar is a new stand-alone electric car brand from Volvo and Geely.
  • Though the car is marketed as a separate brand, it still relies heavily on Volvo's established dealer network.
  • Polestar cars can be serviced at participating Volvo service centers.
  • Customers can take advantage of a complimentary pickup and drop-off service within a 150-mile radius of a participating dealership.

As more and more luxury EVs from startups you've never heard of enter the mainstream car market, you might have a few questions. How fast are they? Are they worth the money? What about reliability? How do they compare to a Tesla?

But if you're seriously considering a startup EV, one question comes before any of the others: How do you even buy the thing?

That was the biggest query that followed Business Insider's recent Polestar 2 first-drive review, along with: Will there be dealerships? Where? How will service work? Thus, Business Insider asked Polestar spokesperson JP Canton all you wanted to know.

Polestar might sound like a startup, but it has established names behind it. It's the standalone electric-car brand from Volvo and its Chinese parent company, Geely. The result, with the Polestar 2, is a sleek and stylish EV built and supported by a tested and true system.

Here's how everything will work.

Where to see the cars in showrooms

Yes, there will be facilities — standalone, Polestar-branded facilities. Business Insider got a look at a mock-up one during the 2's media presentation last month. It's sparse, minimalist, Scandinavian. Think more of a showroom than a dealership, with no fixed operations or service on site.

There won't be a big lot outside filled with inventory and promotional balloons flying around, either. In fact, expect no inventory at the Polestar sites, just one or two display vehicles that you can check out when you walk in.

Each showroom will likely be staffed by a team of three to five people depending on foot traffic, and Canton likened the whole experience to stepping into any premium luxury store. From the showroom, you can book a test drive, see a color in person, ask a question about trade-ins, or get more information on financing options.

"You will not get dragged into the back room and sold something that isn't Polestar approved," Canton said.

The initial sales and distribution rollout will start in places with high EV demand and infrastructure, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the tri-state area. But by about next summer, you can add Denver, Boston, Washington, D.C., the south Florida region, and Austin to that list. Plans for Seattle and points in the midwest are still being laid out.

But that doesn't mean that if you live in Cheyenne, Wyoming, you're out of luck if you want a Polestar. You can arrange to have the car delivered to you for a price, but getting service might be difficult.

How to get your Polestar serviced

Despite Polestar marketing itself away from its Volvo cousin, it's still going to rely heavily on Volvo's tried, true, and — most importantly — existing dealership and service-center system. Polestar, as mentioned above, will not have its own service centers. Rather, its service points are linked to participating Volvo dealerships.

The key word there is "participating," because not all Volvo dealerships will be able to service your Polestar.

Polestar and Volvo dealerships will exist separately, but only Volvo dealers that also own a Polestar franchise can service a Polestar. If this is confusing, it is because franchise laws in the US make it so. Obviously, it would be easiest for Polestar to set up its own service points, but Canton said current legislation does not allow for it.

Anticipating the potential inconvenience this might cause — what if the closest Polestar-friendly Volvo dealership is 100 miles away? — the participating Volvo affiliates will offer complimentary pickup and delivery within a 150-mile radius of their location. That means depending on where you live in Connecticut, you could theoretically get your Polestar serviced at a Volvo service center in Philadelphia.

Canton said that, demand and profitability allowing, Polestar hopes to add more service points — meaning more dealers willing to sign on — therefore widening the radius of location coverage. In a couple of years, Polestar aims to have more than 20 stores in its network. It hopes to keep growing its infrastructure as demand increases.

Of course, this will cost dealerships extra time and money. In addition to the pickup and delivery service, they'll also need to hire and train technicians specifically for Polestar cars.

This doesn't seem to be a big concern to Canton, though. He pointed out that this is one of the benefits of sharing a service center with a Volvo franchise because generally, EV ownership means less service anyway.

The buying experience

A Polestar is a luxury EV, but buying one could be a bit different from buying a traditional luxury car.

For one, Canton said that there will be no sales pressure on the floor. In a traditional dealership, a salesperson might not have a particular color or trim in stock, so they will push you toward something they do have in stock, hoping to make a sale that day.

At a Polestar showroom, Canton said, no one is going to push you into going home with the car that day. In fact, most of the ordering process can happen online if you want it to. You can customize your car to your specifications. It can then take between seven days or three months, depending on the specificity of your request, for the car to be delivered right to you.

Canton said Polestar hopes to see less haggling at its locations, since everything can be easily priced out online. Once you get to the dealer, you can try and negotiate, but he's not sure how far you'd get considering that everyone involved knows what both ends of the transaction look like.

The Polestar 2 is currently offered with six shades of exterior paint, two interior tones, and one leather interior in the color Barley only. Compared to Bentley or Mercedes cars, which offer customized color combinations and interior trims that go on longer than the human genome, this seems oddly conservative.

The reason for this, as it turns out, is timing.

It's all about getting the car to the customer in a reasonable timeframe, Canton said. By minimizing the amount of vanity options, it's easier to have all the materials on hand to scratch-build a car quickly to a customer's specifications.

It also means the company can prefill its factory with cars that people are most likely to buy after seeing the take rates.

Charging outside of the Tesla network

Polestar's cars will use the Combined Charging System plug, which Canton affectionately referred to as the Everyone But Tesla Plug. (You can see a guide on EV plugs here.) He said home charging is the predominant charging option for buyers, admitting that Tesla has the jump in terms of public charging infrastructure. But he's confident because the rest of the charging network is catching up pretty quickly.

Polestar expects that most people will have a home charger. For people like me, who live in a city and have no access to a garage, much less an outdoor outlet, ownership will be much more difficult.

But for those with access to an outlet, charging the car is as easy as plugging it into the wall.

The rate of charge comes down to your home's setup. A 110-volt outlet, good for something like a hair dryer, requires 22 hours to mostly charge the car. A 220-volt outlet, for a washer/dryer, cuts that time down by half.

Or, you can buy a wall box, which costs between $500 and $1,000 and increases the rate of charge even more. Canton recommends asking an electrician about this, though.

It's clear, from both talking to Canton and actually driving the 2, that Polestar has a very, very solid chance at becoming the brand that converts large amounts of luxury buyers into EV owners.

There's manufacturing to rely on from Volvo, a brand that has proven that it knows how to build a car and build it well. There's a slick showroom to visit, where Polestar promises you won't be hounded by a salesperson. Then there's the delivery and pickup service, which brings the cars within reach of those who might not live close enough for it to be convenient otherwise.

Now, it's a matter of waiting to see how buyers respond.