We’ve been talking about Lynk & Co, the new Geely/Volvo venture to sell cars and SUVs and crossovers by not really selling them at all, for a couple of years now. Instead of selling cars, they want to use subscriptions to get you in their stuff instead—a new form of ownership and, if you can stand the buzzword, “mobility.”
I was able to get to Sweden for a quick drive in the Lynk & Co 01, and, even better, talk with their CEO Alain Visser so he could explain to me just how this is all going to work.
(Full Disclosure: Lynk & Co flew me out to Gothenburg, Sweden for some secret reasons, but they also let me drive the 01 and talk to their CEO. They thankfully refrained from shoving food in my mouth without my permission, for a change.)
Unusually for me, for once I think the discussion about how they’re planning to get these cars to people proved to be a good bit more interesting than the car itself. That’s not a slight against the 01, which is a very capable car, built on the same modular architecture as the Volvo XC40.
But even Lynk & Co knows that the actual, physical car part of what they’re trying to do isn’t the interesting part. That said, I should at least tell you a bit about the car.
Actually, there is one very important thing about the car, specifically the very car I drove. That car was also driven, a few weeks earlier, by a member of Swedish royalty. I can’t exactly recall if it was King Carl XVI Gustaf or his son, Prince Carl Philip.
Either way, this is—I believe—the only time I’ve driven the same car as any titled royalty, and very likely the first time my ass has sat anywhere a king (or prince) has. So that’s probably worth noting, right?
Lynk & Co let me take the 01 out for a little drive from Gothenburg to a lovely little labyrinthine seaside town. The one I was driving was a pre-production European-spec version (it’s already available in China), so at their request I was a bit limited in what I could photograph, but I was still able to get a good sense of the SUV.
I was told by people at Lynk & Co that their revolution is not in the car itself, and they’re right about that. It is a very nice SUV, and should likely be a way to get Volvo quality at a lower price—more on that “price” business in a bit.
The 01's look is pretty striking, I think, especially within the context of most SUVs. The front end treatment doesn’t feel like everyone else, though it does sort of resemble Porsche’s corporate SUV and crossover face, with the front grille area de-emphasized and prominent lights on the upper surface—DRLs and indicators for the Lynk, headlamps on the Porsche. It sort of reminds me of a happy, robotic hippo, which I don’t see as a bad thing, really.
The 01's interior (I couldn’t really take shots of that—it was a pre-production prototype, with some exposed wires and stuff) looks from concept photos to be a notch below its Volvo sibling. But Volvo has set a pretty high interior bar lately, and so the result is an interior that still feels quite premium.
The materials all feel good, there’s nothing that strikes you as especially cheap, and it’s comfortable and well-designed. The instruments are an LCD screen which I was told will offer a good deal of customizability, including at least one display design that’s not idiotically skeuomorphic.
There’s a good amount of room in the cargo area, but it’s by no means the most voluminous option out there. Still, it’s likely plenty for most of what people will be using these for, easily.
I drove the 2.0-liter inline-four AWD version, an engine you can find in the Volvo XC40 as well. It makes 190 horsepower, and the power felt more than adequate, if not neck-snapping. The seven-speed dual-clutch auto did its job just fine, and the overall experience was, well, unobtrusive.
It’s also worth mentioning that Lynk & Co has goals of all their cars being hybrids and/or battery electrics, so I suspect the first one we get in America will be a hybrid.
That makes sense for the target market Lynk & Co has in mind—these aren’t hardcore gearheads. Hell, it’s unlikely many users will ever know or care exactly how much horsepower the thing makes, and that’s just fine. The 01 is easy to drive, very easy, almost relaxing, even.
Speaking of relaxing, there is one very interesting detail, something that usually gets ignored on most cars: the turn signal click sound is excellent, likely the best I’ve ever heard.
I know that sounds strange to mention, but the indicator click sound sounds like the sharp tone of a piece of hollow wood being rapped with a metal rod. It’s a satisfying and pleasant sound. I mentioned it to the Lynk & Co people in the car, who were thrilled someone noticed, because they actually had spent some effort trying to make the sound just right.
I mean, all modern indicator clicks are sort of silly, since they’re emulating the old bimetal strip connection sound in the blinker relay—they’re all artificial now, so why not make it sound good? Details are important.
The 01 is a good, very modern SUV with pretty much everything a good, very modern SUV buyer would want. It’s got a look that sets it apart from the crowd a bit, but, for the most part, it’s what you’d expect.
That’s fine, because this next part isn’t.
Be A Subscriber And A Driver
If you’ve got the money and the motivation, Lynk & Co will sell you, flat out, one of their vehicles. But that’s not really how they want to do things. They’re very eager to try out this subscription model of car ownership, or subscribership, or whatever.
They’re sort of testing the waters with the Care by Volvo program, which is proving to be a good plan, since Care by Volvo hasn’t exactly had a smooth start. But Lynk & Co wants to take things even further.
Visser, the CEO, explained to me six key factors that made them realize it was time to try something new. In my notebook, I swear it looks like I wrote “6 SHIT FACTORS” but I’m pretty sure that’s not what he said.
The sentiment, though, is there, as these are the six things Lynk & Co identified as being what people hate most about buying a car:
1. The Dealer Experience Sucks
2. There’s too many crazy build combinations
3. Everyone hates haggling over price
4. Outside of the U.S., there’s a three to four month wait to get a car; in the U.S., we usually just compromise and buy off the lot rather than custom order
5. You end up buying technology that becomes obsolete
6. Dealership service is a pain in the ass
And all of these things are true. Or at least, most of them are to one degree or another.
Lynk & Co’s subscription model aims to get around all of these issues. There’s no dealers (1)— just some showrooms and pop-up stores or traveling exhibitions to physically see the cars, but you order online.
There’s only eight build combinations (2), and that’s it. There’s just one price (3), a monthly subscription, and that includes maintenance, taxes, insurance, and registration fees. The goal is really just one price.
The car is delivered to you rapidly (4)—though we’ll have to see how it works out; the limited number of build combinations certainly will help.
Also, you can upgrade your car to a newer version (5) when new models appear, for the same amount you’re currently paying. The old ones are re-furbished and made available as well, and, eventually, I suppose they’ll end up on the used market, but, really, no one knows just yet.
Finally, all service is handled by going to the customer, and replacing their car with another Lynk & Co car while the car is being serviced, so the owner’s life is barely affected.
These are all good things for this sort of model, but I personally think the most revolutionary thing about this is one key part that Alain told me: the minimum subscription time is one month.
The more you think about that, the bigger a deal this is. If you’re letting people subscribe to cars on a month-to-month basis, there’s no longer any need to repossess cars, for one thing. You can’t get underwater on a lease because it’s not a lease; it’s more like Netflix. You don’t pay that month, you don’t get to binge-watch all the Police Academy movies or whatever. There’s no auto debt involved here. That in and of itself is revolutionary.
So, if you’re a young person and you’re living month-to-month and you know your situation could change dramatically with minimal notice, Lynk & Co’s model makes a lot of sense.
A month-minimum model means that if we assume the price is around $400 to $500/month (that’s a guess, but one the CEO was using, so I think we can play with it, too, and it’s right around the average for a car loan and/or lease) then all of a sudden Lynk & Co becomes very competitive with rental cars.
I just checked some car rental sites, and it costs between $400 and over $500 to rent a roughly similar SUV for a week, and you have to pick that up and drop it off on your own; Lynk & Co will deliver the car to you, and pick it up again.
So, for the cost of a rental car for a week, you could have a Lynk & Co 01 for an entire month. If this actually happens like they say it will, why the hell would you get a rental car?
This sort of no-obligation model makes all kinds of things possible. Let’s say you’re a student in a big city nine months out of the year and don’t need a car, but you’ll want one when you go home for summer break. Subscribe to a Lynk & Co for two or three months! Going on vacation for a month? Get an 01. Moving without too much stuff? Family coming for a month and they won’t all fit in your MR2? A friend is laying low at your place for a month until the shit blows over? There’s all kinds of reasons why people may need a car for a limited amount of time.
I mentioned these things to Alain, and he didn’t bat an eye. While all of this is still yet to be actually implemented, I think if they can actually pull off something as casual, easy, and with as little commitment as a Netflix account but for a car, then they may actually be on to something.
This doesn’t even factor in the car sharing aspect, which we’ll cover in detail later.
Lynk & Co thinks they can do all this because of how much they plan to save by streamlining distribution and eliminating the dealer model, which they feel is wasteful. For what it’s worth, Alain seems quite excited by everything, and I get the sense that he’s eager to not just give it all a real try, but to adapt and accept mistakes and changes as they arise. That’s a healthy attitude to have for something like this.
Can they pull it off? Will it work? Will the rental car companies freak out? I guess we’ll see.