Interview: Polestar’s Design Director on The Stunning Precept Concept

The Precept, from Polestar (Volvo’s electric vehicle testbed and sub-brand), represents not just an embrace of technology, but also a reshuffling and reimagining of the concept of luxury itself. Austere and future-forward, the car (which was poised to be unveiled at this year’s Geneva International Motor Show) follows in CEO Thomas Ingenlath’s mission statement that EV design should move away from what he calls “dystopian brutalism” toward a “sophisticated high-tech minimalism.”

With practical features (like its spacious rear seats and large battery pack) and details that encompass the brand’s dedication to environmentally friendly materials, this stunning vehicle looks fairly close to production. We asked Max Missoni—Polestar’s design director—to join us in a discussion about how the sub-brand generally, and the Precept specifically, broadcast Ingenlath’s idea of sophisticated high-tech minimalism.

The Precept’s interior uses a lot of recycled and natural materials borrowed from fashion, like Bcomp (made from flax used for skis by makers like Black Diamond and Faction) and Econyl yarn for the carpets (made from recycled plastics that various brands have used in bags and footwear). These fibers reduce weight considerably, but what’s the broader message?

When we do concept cars it’s not only to present and communicate to the outside world—to our future customers to show them our vision—but also internally, to show to our engineering teams and suppliers. To say, “Look, this is what we plan to do. This is proof that this can work.” So I think those materials—replacing non-recycled and non-recyclable materials we already know from fashion and other rugged applications—is the start. The design part is about how we meld the materials. Our seats are 3D-printed from 100% recycled PET plastic bottle material in combination with recycled cork-based vinyl, and that flax from Bcomp is on the backs of all four seats and that’s transparent. You can see through it, and that gives you a technical, premium-looking really luxurious seat. It’s a new sense of premium, of avant-garde premium.

Polestar

There’s something else going on inside: a central 15.5-inch touchscreen and the instrument panel, as well as eye-tracking, all working together. You’re engineering this with Google’s Android so that the tracking adapts to where your eyes are, to enlarge the features you want to tap so that you don’t have hunt and peck and drive simultaneously. Tell us about the potential here to make this a new default in the automotive space.

First of all, we stand for technology. We want to not just make use of it, but also celebrate the fact that we have those systems. And that is interesting for us as designers—to create a new aesthetic around technology. That gives us the chance to create new design cues rather than the original design cues we’re used to for premium products like chrome, leather and wood. And in terms of the user experience, I think it’s extremely exciting that we have this collaboration with Google. For the Precept, we’re showing the next step, using proximity sensors for your hands and eye-tracking devices that change the interface depending on the need the sensors pick up from, from the driver or passenger.

Polestar

Can you describe the design doors that this opened as well as how this marks a difference in philosophy?

The first thing on design is it forces us to reduce clutter. Secondly, information becomes a more premium experience in itself—while enhancing safety, putting that information where the driver needs it. And philosophically we carry that forward, with jewel touch-points that are part of the ergonomics. You can tell the car to advance an audio track (to say “skip” or “pause”) but you also have a rotary as well, to provide a physical experience, which makes it easier to adjust while you’re driving. It gives you these crafted, detailed tools that we think are part of the premium brand experience.

Polestar

On the exterior, there’s the large LIDAR sensor at the front of the car, and you entirely eliminated the back window. Also, there are SmartZones all over the front of the car and at the side sills, where you actually label the sensor functions of the tech. Can you talk about this in terms of technology and design?

Some of this is a consumer-electronics-inspired design language. It was quite important to us to stop hiding the areas where all the sensors like radars and cameras would be placed. And instead, we are featuring it. We really want people to engage with the technology that we’ve embedded in that vehicle and not just hide it. To me, this will become the new modern UI design language. It’s the same for making sustainability feel premium for the interior. As for the LIDAR, the function is to capture more environmental data and overlay what the sensor captures with Google Maps to provide a realistic context for turn by turn navigation. On the rear window, by removing the backlight and then using a camera so that you can actually see better than with a mirror—this allows us to do a couple of things. We get an exceedingly good aerodynamic flow and we also move the beam rearward, so the there’s much more rear seat headroom. Moving that beam back gives a very large trunk opening. All of these things are being made possible by introducing a camera instead of a window.

Is signaling Ingenlath’s “sophisticated high-tech minimalism” something that happens beyond Polestar, beyond Volvo even, so that EV’s become something more like the consumer electronics’ design language more broadly?

Right now there is such a vacuum for affordable premium electric cars. We at Polestar at least see room for something new. We look at what’s happening in technology, what’s happening in sustainability and use these things as new influences. Not just tick off the usual boxes, but create a new design language around those new prerequisites. And that’s exactly what you’re seeing and once it’s established, it will be desirable.

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