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YML wins duties for Volvo-backed Polestar

By Doug Zanger, Adweek 

Even past its founder’s Twitter feed and swashbuckling ways, Tesla has managed to carve out substantial mindshare with the public. Moreover, the company took a huge leap, with over 50% of the U.S. plug-in electric vehicle (EV) market, driven mainly by its Model 3, a more entry-level offering.

Past Tesla, the landscape is crowded with many brands carving out their own EV products. Toyota’s Prius PHEV is the closest to Elon Musk’s empire, with 23,630 units sold in 2019 out of just more than 326,000, according to the Transportation Research Center at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

Chipping away at Tesla’s primacy is daunting, yet EV brand Polestar is betting that it can give it a go, especially with the Polestar 2 model that began production spring last year. The Sweden-based company—a joint effort by Chinese car giant Geely and Volvo—hired MDC Partners shop YML to redesign and reengineer its corporate web presence and, crucially, its primary digital product and retail experience.

“Polestar was seeking a partner completely aligned with our digital-first philosophy. There were not many agencies out there with the capabilities we were seeking,” said Kyle Denlinger, who leads digital at Polestar. “YML brings fresh strategy and design to the table, and strong technical expertise. Polestar is taking on a fast-growing and highly competitive EV category, and we need best-in-class digital products and experiences which capture, educate and convert customers.”

Starting at the Coasts

Presently, Polestar has physical locations in New York City and Los Angeles. Still, prospective buyers in those markets and the San Francisco Bay area—the belly of the Tesla beast—can arrange for a bespoke test drive. This is part of the remit for YML as it seeks to help Polestar break into the U.S. market.

The kicker, according to Stephanie Wiseman, YML’s vp of business development, is to get consumers more quickly to the $1,000 deposit to purchase a vehicle (the brand’s first car, the Polestar 1, starts at an eye-watering $155,000, while the Polestar 2’s entry price is just under $60,000).

“It’s not just getting someone to click that button,” she said. “You’re selling a car online, so how do you make a really immersive and engaging experience that gives people enough confidence that they want to click that button?”

A pedigree in automotive design

According to Stephen Clements, the agency’s chief creative officer, Polestar is far from just another EV up for grabs, even though it has loads of tech like Google and Android integrations. And a significant reason why is because of the involvement of a respected brand like Volvo.

“What these more traditional automotive brands have that, perhaps, some of the more tech-oriented competitors don’t have is the pedigree in automotive design,” said Clements, who worked with automotive brands like Audi for the bulk of his career. “Frankly, I think it shows. The vehicle itself looks and is premium and doesn’t feel like a disposable but of technology. It feels like a serious piece of machinery.”

“Tesla is a lot more tech first,” added Ashish Toshniwal, YML co-founder and CEO. “[Polestar] has the advantage of being an automobile company over the years.”

The big elephant in the room remains Tesla and the outsized ambition and personality of Elon Musk.

“You need to think two generations ahead [to defeat Tesla],” said Wiseman.

But perhaps the most significant plus is in Polestar’s Volvo heritage and existing network of retail, technology and factories. Combine that with the fact that people are more comfortable clicking to buy a car (or at least put down a $1,000 deposit), and it proves to be an interesting future but one with a longer view that Clements is optimistic about.

“I think that Polestar stands a damn good chance of winning.”

This piece originally appeared on Adweek. View it here.