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Volvo’s premium electric sub-brand, Polestar, will hit Australian shores before the end of this year, but the marque says its identity is not just electrification and performance, it’s more to do with sustainably producing vehicles and tracking their environmental impact “from the cradle to the grave”.
What exactly does this mean? Speaking to media at an event in Sydney, Polestar Australia’s newly-appointed managing director, Samantha Johnson, explained the brand looks at the “lifetime environmental impact of the Polestar 2” and that “when the Polestar 2 is charged with renewable energy, it is 50 per cent less emissions producing that a traditional vehicle”.
The brand is working toward producing the “world’s first carbon neutral vehicle by 2030” and plans to do so not via carbon offsets as other brands often use, but by “true elimination” of carbon in the vehicle’s life cycle.
But will consumers be willing to pay more for it?
To woo buyers, the brand is transparent about the fact that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) like the Polestar 2 actually require massive amounts of carbon emissions to build (due largely to the complexities of lithium-ion battery assembly) and require a significant amount of time on the road (112,000km to be precise) to begin offering a tangible environmental benefit according to the global average power mix. The distance travelled can be brought down if the vehicle is recharged in Europe (where there are more renewables in the power grid) or when charged solely off wind power, which can bring it down as low as 50,000km.
While Polestar’s vehicles are also said to be constructed of many recycled materials and things like sustainably sourced flax (which is said to not compete with food crops), Polestar goes a step further than its BMW rival by publicly offering a Life Cycle Assessment report of the Polestar 2’s carbon footprint.
The assessment includes a breakdown on the materials used to construct an entire vehicle and points out where recycled materials can be used. For example, the brand’s assessment will have it turning to extended use of recycled metals, particularly aluminium which currently accounts for 29 per cent of the Polestar 2's carbon footprint during production.
It will also aim to recycle more steel and copper in future production but is also leaning on blockchain technology to trace cobalt through the car’s ecosystem.
Cobalt is one of the most controversial materials used in BEVs and is currently required for lithium-ion battery construction. Not only is it a rare earth metal, but it is often not sustainably or ethically sourced, with 70 per cent of global supply coming from Congolese mines, a significant percentage of which reportedly rely on exploitative labour practices.
In the future, Polestar is hoping to use such technologies to not only ensure its vehicles are free of sourcing dilemmas, but also that it can reclaim and re-use materials from batteries and vehicles that have reached their end-of-life.
Polestar, which is owned by Volvo and its parent company, China’s Geely, sources its lithium batteries from Korean giant LG Chem and Chinese battery supplier CATL for the Polestar 2. The car itself is built in China where it can regionally leverage its access to said battery suppliers and is said to be built in a Polestar facility (not a Volvo or Geely facility) which is geared toward sustainability and the use of clean energy.
Will Australian consumers care that the Polestar 2 claims to be more sustainable and transparent than its premium electric rivals? Time will tell. The brand will debut the Polestar 2 Down Under in November of this year, although with prices looking to start north of $75k it will face stiff competition from the ever-popular Tesla and emerging EV rivals like Hyundai’s Ioniq range, Kia’s EV6, or the VW ID.4 all of which are competing to be more affordable electric offerings.