Company Car Today

Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Martin Gurney, Head of European Fleet & Business, Polestar

Martin Gurney left Peugeot parent company Stellantis at the beginning of 2020 after more than two decades with the French brand, moving to Polestar, the pioneering electric sibling to Volvo.

Why did you make the jump from PSA to Polestar?

I was aware of this great brand Polestar, and when the opportunity came up to join the fleet team it was just too good to pass up. The company is still very much in a start-up mode, although of course a lot more established than it would have been two years ago. But the idea of being involved with a fleet team from fairly early on in its inception, and being able to play a role in developing a global fleet team, just sounded fantastic. Also, some of the core brand values of Polestar on climate neutrality and transparency and circularity are something that resonate with me.

Where is the early Polestar fleet business coming from?

We’ve got a lot of demand from global major accounts. We’ve got 17 live, we’ve got 14 or so that are in the process of being signed, and six or seven tenders at the moment, so there’s a lot of inbound interest. We’re almost struggling to keep up with demand, not just from the perspective of the car, but the demand from end user customers.

That’s been pleasing because that’s where I see the priorities at the minute; getting in front of customers, talking about the brand, talking about the car, talking about the sustainability message, and making sure we’re listed on user-chooser fleets or as a part of a company car policy.

Lots of progress was made before I started, and the emphasis is very much now on gearing up our fleet teams to be out with end-user key accounts and spreading the message of the brand.

How important is fleet, in terms of Polestar’s focus on where the biggest opportunities are?

The true fleet part of the market, as a percentage of premium EV sales, is 50% on average, and as high as 80% in some cases, so it’s an extremely important part of our business in all of our European markets. And that’s firmly where our focus is; on developing that true fleet activity.

What will be the impact of the revised line-up, moving from one model to a range of three Polestar 2 versions?

It more than triples the opportunity in reality. With the launch edition, that’s one car, one price with all of the options included. I think what we’ve got now with the model year 22 is obviously three distinct models, but the ability within each of those three distinct models for customers to be able to personalise the car by adding a plus pack, a pilot pack, alloy wheels or leather trim. So there’s a lot more choice, and we start with a price point of sub-£40,000, not just under £50,000, which is where the launch edition was.

How do you see the public take on electric cars generally?

Clearly there’s still a level of range anxiety and concern over the charging network for those people who have not experienced an electric car, but I really don’t think for 99% of car drivers that public charging is ever going to be a consideration beyond once or twice a year. It soon becomes a non-issue when you own and operate an electric vehicle, but of course there will still be a small proportion of drivers for whom an electric car is perhaps not quite the solution at this particular point in time, but soon will be.

Do you think people are already aware of what Polestar stands for, or are you having to explain the brand?

There’s a lot more still to do in terms of building the awareness of Polestar as a brand for sure but equally, there are lots of things we’ve done already to make sure that the brand is at the forefront of people’s minds, particularly from a leasing perspective. Because we’ve had a strong demand for our car and fleet drivers have been asking for Polestar 2, it’s encouraged the leasing companies to engage with us to put the framework agreements in place. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of developing awareness and interest, and that’s why experiences at the test drive hubs are really important in giving people the ability to come along and experience the car and the brand.

The counter argument to the ease of the hubs is that there aren’t many of them, so if you’re in the wrong bit of the country it’s hard to experience the car?

It balances out. Yes, it is easy for a driver to go along and have a look at a car dealership, but it’s not so easy to get a decent drive and brand experience. And we have a huge expansion plan in terms of our test drive opportunities, not just test drives from our Polestar retail spaces but test drive hubs and pop up events all over the country. As our activity grows and our volumes grow, we’re investing more and more in providing those experience opportunities near to where people live.

And obviously we have a small demo fleet and we’ll be actively placing those cars if we bring on board a new user-chooser account.

he advantages of being able to provide that experience far outweigh having a dealership around the corner, because you’re guaranteed a proper brand and drive experience. Why does your average company car driver need a dealership network? Well they want to experience the brand. So, we can do that and give them an experience where they’re not going to be discriminated against because they’re a company car driver. And then once they’ve got their Polestar 2, they have the Volvo network to look after them.

Where are you on direct selling versus the ability to go and talk to leasing companies? How are you finding fleets are responding to that different online buying path from what they’re used to?

From the perspective of the company car driver, the whole experience is much better. We have work to do with leasing companies and fleets who outright purchase. Any brand new into the market with the direct supply model would, and at times we’ve been frustrating to deal with. But we’ve learned a huge amount in the past 12 months and have already changed a lot of our leasing company and fleet outright purchase ordering systems.

One for example, which we’ll be delivering towards the end of the year will be a fleet driver portal. Fleet drivers will be able to engage with us fairly early on in the process once they place their order via their fleet manager or their leasing company, and have almost the same experience as a retail driver. Which means being able to see where their car is in the order process, in the production process and the logistics process right through to the point where they arrange to have their car delivered to them or indeed collected from a Polestar location

We’ve learned a lot in the past few months and there was some great work done long before I joined. And there’s lots still in the plan. I think by the end of this year I’ll be confident to put my hand on my heart and say we’ve probably got the best fleet driver/leasing company order experience of any OEM out there.

The sustainability message is quite strong with Polestar. Is that something that’s got any leverage in the fleet market, do people appreciate it and does it tick CSR boxes?

Absolutely, 100%. I would suggest that’s been a very, very significant part of the interest that we’ve seen from global major accounts. When I speak to the procurement managers of some of these big organisations – and we’re talking about the biggest organisations in the world – the whole sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility piece is becoming a bigger and bigger factor in decision making when it comes to purchasing vehicles.

It’s one of the things that really attracted me to the brand because it isn’t just words. Deep within the heart of the organisation, there is a genuine determination to achieve that goal of producing a climate neutral car by 2030 and climate neutrality in totality by 2040.

Do rival cars such as the new BMW i4 help or hinder? Obviously, it helps to focus attention on the sector but it’s also a big player coming in with an EV?

I’m not sure to what extent I see it as a direct competitor, but I’m more than happy that we’re seeing an explosion of EV products in the market. It’s quite clear that the industry is only going to go one way; electrification is the future without any shadow of a doubt for the market we understand today. And so, as far as I’m concerned, the more manufacturers out there with credible products that are attractive to people the better, because it will just raise the profile of electric vehicles in all of our markets and increased people’s propensity to consider our product as a great EV offering among all of that. I don’t hold any fear in that, I think it’s an entirely positive thing.

Gurney on...

CO2 transparency

I don’t know another manufacturer that will today openly publish the exact CO2 footprint of their car from effectively cradle to grave, throughout the production process and in use, and Polestar does. I’m all for encouraging every manufacturer to be transparent in that way to further the climate-neutrality agenda.

Martin Gurney, Head of European Fleet & Business, Polestar

HUB HABITAT

While Polestar doesn’t have a network of dealerships, it instead has “spaces” in shopping centres in London and Manchester, as well as pop-up hubs and test drive sites in places including Daventry, Milton Keynes, Sunderland and Harrogate.

“As a company car driver, my purchase experience itself – the physical act of ordering the car is not going to be much different,” Polestar head of European fleet and business Martin Gurney tells Company Car Today. “And it’s easy for a company car driver to get an experience in a Polestar. You don’t have to go through that battle of pretending to be a retail customer to try and get a drive at a traditional dealership, you don’t have to wait while someone pores over your part-exchange.

“You come along to a Polestar drive hub or to a Polestar space, you have the brand experience, you experience the car, and you leave,” he continues. “And that for me is one of the key advantages that we have as a brand versus traditional OEMs who have to deliver that through their dealer network.”

Top picks

Gurney selects his stand-out cars

Past:

Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9

I never owned one but wish I had: 130bhp in a car with a kerb weight of less than 900kg! The closest I got was my first car, a 205 Style 1.8 diesel with a thunderous 59bhp.

Coffee with - Martin Gurney, Head of European Fleet & Business, Polestar - Top Picks - Present - Polestar 2 Long Range Dual Motor

Present:

Polestar 2 Long Range Dual Motor

Minimalistic, uncompromised, intuitive. It makes electric driving an engaging and effortless experience through performance and advanced, purposeful design.

Coffee with - Martin Gurney, Head of European Fleet & Business, Polestar - Top Picks - Present - Polestar 2 Long Range Dual Motor

Future:

Polestar Precept

Proof that neither design nor performance need to come at the expense of the environment. And it’s going into production. I can’t wait.

Coffee with - Martin Gurney, Head of European Fleet & Business, Polestar - Top Picks - Present - Polestar 2 Long Range Dual Motor