Car internet worked itself into a frenzy on Monday upon learning that beginning next year, Volvo will electronically limit the top speed of its cars to 112 mph (or 180 kph). The nerve!, the car people screamed. The sheer gall! Never mind that outside of a German Autobahn, a car’s top speed is largely irrelevant to most drivers, especially those in Volvo’s people-moving wagons and SUVs. But if you remain aggrieved by this news, take note that Volvo’s electric performance division Polestar isn’t having any of that.
Polestar has ambitious plans to be a top-tier luxury electric division, competing with both Tesla (it may in fact be Tesla’s most plausible direct competitor to date) and the onslaught of new EVs from Audi, BMW and others. To really sell buyers on expensive EVs, you need performance.
That’s why Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath told CNET Roadshow that the speed limit isn’t a great idea for that brand, even if it does work for ultra-safety-conscious Volvo:
He revealed, “We obviously will not do that, and that is a nice brand differentiator [from Volvo].” He continued, “we have not the wish within Polestar to actually dictate to somewhat speed he or she should drive.” [sic]
According to Ingenlath, not only would limiting the v-max of its vehicles to such a low speed be contrary to the brand’s high-performance image, he thinks the discussion itself is almost beside the point with electric cars.
“Naturally, our questions are anyway in a different realm, because with electric cars, you do not discuss high speed anymore that much. That is much more an element of the combustion-engine world. Even with Tesla, [you] have to look up the top speed. For us, it would be silly to announce it [limiting top speed], because really, it’s not a question that’s relevant to us as a brand.”
Which all makes sense, and is a clever differentiation between Polestar and Volvo proper. If you’re going to compete with things like the crazy fast Model S, limiting speeds isn’t a great look—even if most owners are unlikely to ever hit triple-digit speeds.
Cutting speeds down on Volvo’s part is an interesting move. I think you get my stance by now that it doesn’t matter much to most people, since these aren’t explicitly performance or track-oriented cars we’re talking about here. More intriguing to me is how Volvo implied it’s working on automatic speed restriction near school zones or hospitals.
While this is clearly well-intentioned on Volvo’s part, and you’re an asshole if you speed near those places anyway, I don’t love in principle the idea of imposing more computer-guided restrictions on how we drive. That’s an awfully slippery slope, and it puts a lot of trust in these systems (or the government) to get things right.
Then again, the death rate for pedestrians and cyclists remains appalling, so I think we can probably expect more moves along those lines in the future so that drivers will have to make more of a choice between freedom and safety.
In the meantime, go electric if you want a Volvo-family product but see yourself going over 100 mph on the regular.