Lynk & Co is at the vanguard of new trends in car retail. “I like to compare the system to Spotify in that you don’t buy CDs anymore but stream music,” says Alain Visser. “In our case you don’t buy a car, you subscribe to driving,” explains the chief executive officer of Lynk & Co, the new brand in the ever-expanding Geely Auto Group which includes Volvo, Lotus, Proton and Polestar. “Customers want mobility, but they don’t necessarily want to buy a car. So how can we offer cool lifestyle-based mobility rather than just selling as many cars as possible?”
I’m meeting with Visser not at the Gothenburg Swedish HQ nor at the Shanghai showroom, but rather in London, at the Groucho Club, the arts and media members club where so many ideas have been exchanged through the years. It is dark and a little edgy in our meeting room with Goldie, the musician and visual artist, busy outside creating a vast installation. “We are a lifestyle brand,” continues Visser, “We are dark, rugged and rough. You should see our office in Gothenburg,” as his assistant shows me images of a very un-Scandinavian building swathed in shades of noir. Visually, it is far removed from Geely’s other European operations – Volvo with its earthy tones, or Polestar’s white and hyper-clean aesthetic.
Visser explains: “We are totally opposite. Polestar is a real technology brand – white, minimalistic, cool and modern. The truth is everyone is going to have clean, driverless, connected technology. Lynk & Co and Polestar tap into the same technology – the difference will be through branding.”
Lynk & Co was formed three years ago. The idea from the start was to have a brand within Geely that would lease cars rather than promote ownership and thus tap into the coming-generation of drivers. Curiously through, this soft launch happened in China with three cars – the 01, 02 and 03 SUVs – which look like, are marketed and sold much like any other car. The second, more crucial, launch is about to take place in Europe next year with the premier of the 01 PHEV hybrid car and a hip space in Amsterdam. The range will be kept small and made up of solely electric cars, designed to feed the European aesthetic.
As the former vice president of marketing and sales at Volvo and involved with the car industry for 32 years, Visser has long studied the changing landscape of car ownership. “I started realizing that this bulldozer old machine, an industry with an incredible strength and arrogance, has so much opportunity to do something fundamentally different,” he says.
If the future of successful retail is to be a combination of on-and-off-line, then the off-line, the physical, needs to become an experience. He is candid when he tells me, “there are not a lot of car brands that have understood this. The car industry is stuck. I’m not saying what others are doing is terrible, but there are so many customers who want something else and are not getting it. This is where we come in. I have the opportunity to shake it up.”
His proposition is a leasing model that operates much like a smartphone contract, or your Spotify and Netflix membership, to involve a monthly subscription fee with few strings attached. I am concerned the model isn’t fundamentally that different to exiting car-leasing programs. Visser reassures me that, whereas these systems are often tied into a contact, Lynk & Co is completely flexible. “You subscribe to a membership and can take a car for a month and cancel or postpone at any time. You can also choose a new or a used car. For instance, you can specify a new car and use it for four months, after which it will go to a customer who has asked for a used product.”
I’m also curious to know why he hasn’t exercised this system, which is fundamental to the brand, in China where the cars are sold through traditional dealers. Visser explains: “Customers there are very young, many are buying a car for the first time and for them ownership is super-cool and important. I know this sounds a little cheesy, but our business model is based on what the customer wants. Europeans, we believe, don’t want to buy cars, which is why we’re going to launch the subscription model here from 2020.” Lynk & Co will adapt to change for when and if China opens-up to this leasing sales model. “It’s shocking how fast China moves on.”
The cars will be designed by a team at the studio in Gothenburg, led by Geely’s global creative director Peter Horbury and according to European taste. Advanced tech, AI, face-recognition and so on will continue to play a part in the future of Lynk & Co cars recognizing customers on entry and adjust the layout. But in terms of personalizing the cars, Visser confirms the company will offer only five or six options. “Sometimes too much choice can be an issue. We will make sure they are really good looking options though,” he smiles.
Meanwhile, the subscription will include the elements to support electric drive – charging, parking and servicing. “You don’t get an iPhone and then after four months have to send it to Apple to be serviced, which is what essentially happens with cars. We think we should offer this service.”
Lynk & Co is ultimately a lifestyle brand and so the stores – the experiential spaces in key neighborhoods of Amsterdam, London, Paris, Berlin to Barcelona – are key to its proposition. “We want to shake up the car salesroom and move away from these horrible static dealerships,” explains Visser. There will be only one car on display, so the space is taken up by events, partnering with local and global fashion designers, young chefs will offer exclusive dinners while DJs perform. Furthermore, when you become a Lynk & Co member in say Amsterdam or London, you will get invitations to events, bar openings, music festivals in all other locations. It is a little like the private club model we’re sitting in today.
A final key consideration is for all partners and suppliers to share Lynk & Co’s sustainable values. Visser says being ecological is also the only way to get good employees. “Around 70% of our employees are not from the car industry and they have different criteria. The questions they ask at interviews are less and less about job description and salary but the brand story. Other car companies, I dare say, don’t have this and will attract car freaks – which possibly explains why they are alienated from what’s happening in the world.” He says, he wants to offer a positive service.
The first physical space will open by the end of next year in Amsterdam for the Dutch are generally more open to new ideas and the city is anti-car. “We will then roll out across Europe in the next two years. For now, we are concentrating on Europe and haven’t considered US cities yet.” Visser sees the target audience not as an age group, but rather a mind-set. “They can be elder or younger, 20 or 80, but they will be young and young-of-mind urbanites.”
Read about Polestar, Lynk & Co’s performance electric sister brand; see how Volvo is pushing sustainability forward; and read about the motor car’s historical seductive and destructive powers as a way of navigating a more sustainable future.