Monday Moves: On the bike with Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath

What's the best way to start a Monday and a new working week? Of course, in an unagitated way - and with a relaxed bike ride. Preferably along the Swedish coast and with the CEO of a wonderfully unobtrusive and relaxed brand: Thomas Ingenlath from Polestar, for example. On the way, of course, it's all about bikes, the electric performance brand itself - but also craftsmanship and design.
Text Michael Köckritz
Photo Matthias Mederer ·

Generalizations are always dangerous, but when people claim that Sweden is a different planet, that is of course an exaggeration, though it isn’t quite so wrong either. One thing is for certain: Swedes are pleasantly reserved, relaxed and easy-going, certainly more reserved, relaxed and easy-going than us Germans anyway. A wonderful way to verify this claim is with a trip to Sweden, and especially recommended is Gothenburg, the cosmopolitan, colorful city by the sea, characterized by its wonderfully easy-going charm and surrounded by magnificent, wild nature. Slowing down has never been this exciting. With major contributions from some outstanding bicycle trails and tours in and around the city. If you love exploring things by bike, then this is the place for you. It certainly was for us.

We start in Hjuvik on the island of Hisingen directly by the sea. Our chosen route will take us to Torslanda. The map suggests a very beautiful, but also rather strenuous ride.

Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of Polestar, is ready and waiting. The itinerary: his usual ride to the office.

Mr. Ingenlath, you don’t own just one bike, do you?
Actually, I’ve got one for each season because the weather here varies so much over the year. For the summer I have a road bike with a carbon fiber frame. My winter bike is made of aluminum, though I also have one with spiked tires so I can ride through ice and snow. I have a commuter bike in my collection as well, basically a road bike but with flat handlebars. And for the weekend, I have a mountain bike, hardtail, with no suspension. Oh, and then there’s a vintage bike, my old steel-frame roadster that I used to ride to school when I was a kid.

What brand exactly?
It’s a beautiful Gazelle with rod-operated drum brakes. The bike was restored once but now is just standing around in the garage.

So it’s just a collector’s piece?
The bike is just waiting for me to get back to a flat area like the Lower Rhine where I went to school. Here in Sweden, the terrain it just always up and down. That’s nothing for a bike like that.

Do you ride the same route to work every day?
I ride a different way to work than I do back home. In the morning, I take the fastest route, more or less parallel to the expressway. My way home in the evening is about a kilometer longer. But it’s a bit more scenic.

How important are sports and exercise to you? Do you see sport as a way of life?
I do. I think it’s vitally important to do sports or some other form of exercise. To have a healthy mind in a healthy body. I need to release the excess energy, to let it out. If I can’t exercise, I feel out of balance.

Do you do any other sports?
I also go running. Though exercise doesn’t always have to involve sports. Mowing the lawn works too. I love doing manual work. It’s just really important for me to be physically active.

Polestar sees itself as a modern interpretation of the performance brand. How much do sports or the competitive spirit define the brand?
Motorsport doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with sports, but it does have a lot to do with enjoying momentum and speed. Though recreational driving also has an active sporting aspect to it.

The Polestar image is more like that of a cool lifestyle label. Is Polestar still a car brand at all in the traditional sense?
Of course, we’re a car brand. But we deliberately do things differently and don’t let ourselves be constricted or limited by some mold. We think of mobility in a much more open way and consciously engage in cooperative ventures that we are convinced will drive innovation. This can also be outside the traditional automotive sector. We recently partnered on an exciting project, for example: Re:Move, an electric-assisted cargo bike for last-mile delivery.

“Sweden’s beaches aren’t of the palm trees and endless sand variety but are characterized by the very Nordic coastline. I like that better than the endless forests in the rest of the country.”

Thomas Ingenlath

Sustainability has recently become extremely important all around. How important is the topic for Polestar?
How could it not be important to us right now? The job of building a sustainable world and a sustainable future with a sustainable mobility solution is the most serious challenge we currently have to face. Everyone – we as a company, I as a private person and each consumer – should be asking themselves every day how they can do their part. A lot of people still see sustainability as meaning we have to give things up. We need to dispel this myth, and this is exactly where we come in with Polestar: by creating a new, more modern kind of premium using sustainable materials and letting ourselves be inspired by the new possibilities. But we’re also going one step further: We’ve announced our intention to build a completely carbon-neutral car by 2030 – without offsets. Of course, we don’t have the solution yet for how we’re going to make all this happen. It’s a moonshot. But if we don’t tackle things boldly now, we’re losing time.

We’re also going one step further: We’ve announced our intention to build a completely carbon-neutral car by 2030 – without offsets.

Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of Polestar

Exactly how Swedish is Polestar?
Very Swedish. Though perhaps in a different way than Volvo and maybe not necessarily with typically Swedish qualities. But, of course, we’re a Swedish company. Our headquarters are here and so is our whole development unit, even if our engineering department is in the UK and we are an international company. Nevertheless, we are at home here. And the Swedes have a great car culture with two strong brands with a long history, Saab and Volvo. For such a small and not so densely populated country, Sweden is pretty remarkable that it has such an automotive history. But I have always seen that Sweden is about more than Volvo. There is definitely room for a second automotive brand.

"I’m still the first one to jump up and get going. And while the Swedes don’t necessarily drag their feet, they also don’t get all hectic when you want something done right away."

What is your personal experience with Sweden? Do you see any differences to the German mentality?
The most significant difference for me – although I have mellowed somewhat after ten years here – is that the Swedes are not quite as fast-paced as the Germans. I’m still the first one to jump up and get going. And while the Swedes don’t necessarily drag their feet, they also don’t get all hectic when you want something done right away. That can sometimes drive me up the wall. But I’ve had to learn that there are definite advantages to getting to the finish line in a more prudent way. The goal is to find the right balance. Another thing is that in Sweden people aren’t always pushing each other to get ahead. They don’t place their career above everything else here. And they have a strong sense of community. These are all very positive qualities. There’s something quite non-hierarchical about the Swedes. As a boss, for example, you aren’t put up on a pedestal; everyone just comes up to chat with you. Though without being at all rude or intrusive. Everyone is very respectful. But the boss is not considered an untouchable. People just come up to you and call you by your first name.

Is there a must-see place in Sweden?
The islands are absolutely fantastic. The archipelagos off Gothenburg and Stockholm, or islands like Gotland with the bizarre rock formations along its beaches. Sweden’s beaches aren’t of the palm trees and endless sand variety but are characterized by the very Nordic coastline. I like that better than the endless forests in the rest of the country.

What sorts of things inspire you? Where do you get new ideas? And where can you connect with yourself?
I’m actually a very introverted person who needs time for himself. Professionally, I’m often around people. Don’t get me wrong, I like interacting with people, and I consider myself to be quite a communicative person, but after a day like that with lots of meetings, always in large groups, it does me a lot of good to be alone. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports or nature, a good movie, good music – so long as it’s things that touch me emotionally but have nothing to do with my job. I also love to just spend time with my family.

You’re a designer and CEO, a combination we know from luxury or fashion brands, but not from the automotive world. What are the opportunities of such a special position?
If we take Karl Lagerfeld as an example, he led a fashion brand with drive and creativity. And that’s also the way Polestar is different: artistic leadership – and that’s reflected in the overall experience of the brand.

Designers are often portrayed as people who see things with an open mind and a holistic view. Given the many disruptions happening right now, isn’t the ability to see the big picture a perfect quality to have for the leadership tasks needed in the car world today?
A designer certainly needs to be inspired rather than frightened by new circumstances and situations. Designers should sense new developments and trends in society and be able to make decisions by anticipating the future. That’s exactly what designers have done for decades – looking five or six years into the future. And you incorporate what you feel to be aesthetic and modern into your thinking.

What role does holistic design have in the success of a brand?
Design has become an increasingly important part of the customer’s purchasing decision in recent years. Where we go one step further with Polestar, I think, is that we don’t stop with the design of the product – we apply design to the entire brand. Consistently pursuing a purist approach, concentrating on the essentials without making thousands of compromises. And that doesn’t just apply to the vehicle, but to all our touchpoints and the way we communicate.

How do you see the automobile world at the moment? It is, after all, undergoing a tremendous transformation. But is it just change for the sake of change?
Admittedly, it could be described as naive and overly optimistic. But what we’re doing is we don’t stand in the way of change, nor do we fatalistically say it’s too late and nothing can be done anyway. Instead, we work on it every day, in the positive belief that we can make a difference, no matter how small the steps. It is an optimistic feeling that the carbon-free future will be an even more attractive and better world, one that we can reach without having to make too many sacrifices. It will be a different life, with different experiences and adventures, where we find other things better than we did in the past. We just say: Okay, that was one era. Now we have something else and that is even better and more exciting.

Doesn’t this change the whole idea of the car?
The only thing that hasn’t changed so far is that a car has four wheels that turn, but otherwise the automobile has had to undergo constant transformations. Now we’re seeing another step in its evolution. It may seem like an enormous move ahead – but going from cars that were started with a crank to cars that have an electric starter was a huge leap as well. Or electronics in cars in general. Electric cars are certainly a quantum leap, but it’s not as if cars haven’t changed at all in the past hundred years.

If you hadn’t become a designer, what profession would you have chosen?
Farmer, carpenter, architect, physician, researcher . . . I can think of so many possibilities. No matter what you do, it always comes down to seeing the exciting things in it. Okay, I probably wouldn’t have felt as fulfilled in finance, but who knows.

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