Meet the Netflix of the car industry

Geely Auto Group subsidiary Lynk & Co plans to tackle the car hire market head-on

Lynk & Co car fleet
(Image credit: Lynk & Co)

Lynk & Co would like to challenge the conventional auto industry by proposing a new way to buy, own and use cars. Created three years ago and about to launch in Europe, this new marque joins the ever-expanding Geely Auto Group – the Chinese car giant with a portfolio that includes Volvo, Lotus, Proton and Polestar.

Currently there are three models in the Lynk & Co family – the logically named 01, 02 and 03 – sold only in China, with the 01 PHEV hybrid expected to premier in Europe next year. The cars are designed to be sporty and rugged, but the exciting story isn’t necessarily the products. Lynk & Co is proposing a leasing model that operates much like a smartphone contract or Spotify and Netflix membership, with a monthly subscription fee with few strings attached. What’s more, the flagship stores planned in key European cities will be highly experiential spaces. Lynk & Co wants to sell us a lifestyle, and to find out more, Wallpaper* caught up with the chief executive, Belgium-born Alain Visser.

Side view of Lynk & Co 01

Lynk & Co 01

(Image credit: Lynk & Co)

Wallpaper*: Lynk & Co is essentially your brainchild, conceived whilst running Volvo’s global marketing operations. How did the concept originate?
Alain Visser: I’ve been in the car industry for 32 years. I started realising that this bulldozer-like old machine, an industry with an incredible strength and arrogance, has so much opportunity to do something fundamentally different. The future of retail will be a combination of on and offline. But the offline needs to become an experience and there are not a lot of car brands who 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 had the opportunity to shake it up – try to fight it from within.

W*: How would you define the company?
AV: 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 like to compare the system to Spotify in that you don’t buy CDs anymore but stream music. In our case, you don’t buy a car but you subscribe to driving – if you want to, you use it and if not, you won’t.

W*: How does this fundamentally differ to other car-sharing or car-leasing systems already in existence?
AV: With a leasing system, you are tied into a contact. Our system 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 the car will go to a customer who has specified a used car.

Side view of Lynk & Co 02

Lynk & Co 02

(Image credit: Lynk & Co)

W*: Does your current fleet in China operate on this model?
AV: No, in China we are using a traditional sales method through dealers. The reason is the customers there are very young and 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. European customers, we believe, don’t want to buy a car, which is why we’re going to launch the subscription model here from 2020.

W*: You have a capsule collection of cars to include three models, crossovers of various proportions. Which models do you see working in Europe, and will design adapt to European taste and needs?
AV: We haven’t announced which models we will be bringing here, but it will most likely be the smaller cars starting with the 01 PHEV. As a brand, we believe we don’t need a big range of cars. However, we’ll offer only electric cars here as we want to be a sustainable brand. From a design point of view we work from our own studio in Gothenburg, led by Peter Horbury (Geely’s global head of design), and the cars will be adjusted to the European market. We have tested the design in customer-focused groups, and the reactions have been positive.

W*: Does the subscription include the elements to support electric drive – the charging points and so on?
AV: Absolutely. We offer charging, parking but also servicing, which is included in the subscription. 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, so we think we should offer this service.

Lynk & Co 02 interior

Interior of Lynk & Co 02

(Image credit: Lynk & Co)

W*: You say your Lynk & Co stores will be more about experiential retail.
AV: Yes, we are offering a lifestyle. We want to shake up the car salesroom and move away from these horrible static dealerships. Our retail stores will be about more than selling cars. There will be the maximum of one car on display so the centres become about the events. The stores will partner with local and global fashion designers, young chefs will offer exclusive dinners, and DJ’s will perform. When you become a Lynk & Co member in Amsterdam or London, you will get invitations to events, bar openings, music festivals.

W*: Do these creative partners need to share similar values, for instance sustainability?
AV: They need to be on-brand and complement the story we’re telling. And yes absolutely, the sustainability element is key – it is holy and this applies to the partners and suppliers. It is essential to our consumers, but it is also the only way to get good employees! 70 per cent 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. We want to be a positive service for what’s happening in the world.

W*: Will the centres be different according to the host city from Amsterdam to London, Milan, Berlin and Barcelona?
AV: You will recognise this is a Lynk & Co store, but the spaces will look very different in each city because we will involve local players. You will see with the Amsterdam store next year.

Lynk & Co 03 front facing view

Lynk & Co 03

(Image credit: Lynk & Co)

W*: Do you see the success model here then feeding back to the Lynk & Co Chinese model – this is after all a very fast-moving society?
AV: You are right, it is shocking how fast China moves on. So yes, we are already working on that. It may be cool to buy cars now but this is likely to move quickly. The Chinese don’t use credit cards but pay for everything with their phones, and my assistant there laughed at the fact I have a key to my Antwerp home as he uses face recognition instead.

W*: Do you see advanced tech, AI, face-recognition, playing a part in the future of Lynk & Co cars?
AV: We do. Some tech already exists but we will extend this for the cars to recognise you on entry and adjust the seats and positioning. But from a personalisation point-of-view we will offer only five or six options as sometimes too much choice can be an issue. We will make sure they are really good-looking options though.

W*: It is interesting how Geely is encouraging niche brands to form within the company. How does it work with your Swedish sister brand, the all-electric performance company Polestar?
AV: We are totally opposite. Polestar is a real technology brand – clean, white, minimalistic, cool and modern. Lynk & Co is a lifestyle brand, and is dark, rugged and rough – you should see our office in Gothenburg! The truth is everyone is going to have to have clean, driverless, connected technology. Lynk & Co and Polestar tap into the same technology, the difference will be through branding.

Lynk & Co 02 side view

Lynk & Co 03

(Image credit: Lynk & Co)

W*: Who do you see as your ideal customers?
AV: I hate the term millennial – it is so cliché. Our target audience isn’t an age group, rather it is a mind-set. It can be elder or younger, but young and young-of-mind urbanites. They can be 20 and 80.

W*: You mentioned the initial cars for Europe will be based on the ones being sold in China. Going forward do you feel a radical car proposition like Lynk & Co needs a more radical approach – also to the products and the design? 
AV: I agree it does, but I don't necessarily think it is that relevant for our customers. We have a really good mobility offering here, and we think our cars are excellent. But we also believe that just like we are trying to move the business model, there is room for change.

W*: How will Lynk & Co evolve, and are you considering beyond Europe – the US?
AV: The first physical store will open by the end of 2020 in Amsterdam because the Dutch are 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.