In the eMove360° series Women-in-Tech, we present inspiring women who have gained a foothold in the automotive industry. In the current issue of eMove360° magazine in german language – trade journal for electric mobility and autonomous driving, Maren von Heereman talks to Sabine Metzger about her work as Head of Commercial Operations in the Polestar team in Germany, the Polestar 3 and Polestar 4, 100 percent online direct sales, brand building, and the current market situation for electric cars in Germany.
Briefly outline your career path? How did you get into the automotive industry?
Maren von Heereman: I studied at RWTH Aachen University and received my master’s degree in industrial engineering in 2017. During my studies, I worked for some time at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology on various projects in the automotive sector, among others. So the path from university to the automotive industry was not far. The passion for cars runs in our family. I finally entered the automotive industry in product development at Ford in Cologne.
When did you join the Polestar team?
von Heereman: I’ve been with Polestar since December2020 and, as employee number 11, I’m one of those who built up the Polestar brand in Germany. I have been Head of Commercial Operations at Polestar Germany since April2022 and now manage a team of around 30, including customer service and aftersales.
How would you describe your day-to-day work? What are your core responsibilities?
von Heereman: Since I’ve been responsible for operations at Polestar in Germany, I’ve been in charge of all processes and issues relating to business development, delivery planning, aftersales and customer experience. In concrete terms, it’s about making sure that the customer goes through a smooth process. And if that’s not the case, getting the necessary support from us – from ordering to delivery to returning a Polestar.
What does a typical working day look like for Maren von Heereman?
von Heereman: There is no such thing as a typical working day! (Laughs) We often have to react quickly to changing conditions in order to achieve our goals and maintain customer satisfaction. The tasks are very varied. After all, that’s what makes the job so much fun.
What challenges do you face?
von Heereman: Getting the customer experience right is already the biggest challenge. After all, we work directly with people here and want to respond to their individual needs. By this we mean that everyone who comes into contact with us has a positive perception of Polestar – regardless of whether they are customers or just initially interested, even if they don’t ultimately buy a Polestar. This ranges from reading an advertisement, to calling customer service, to visiting one of our showrooms. We want to ensure that everyone always has a compelling experience of the Polestar brand. I’m not solely responsible for this, but all of us at Polestar make sure of it, from our CEO Thomas Ingenlath to our colleagues in production, marketing and sales.
Since last year, of course, we have been increasingly concerned with the supply chain for our vehicles. Every day, we have to ensure that our customers receive their vehicles on time, coordinate with our partners at the delivery locations, and ensure that the logistics chain remains stable.
In addition, it is important for me personally to further diversify our team so that we can incorporate as many different perspectives and ideas as possible. This also includes increasing the proportion of women in our industry, which is still heavily dominated by men. Polestar has set itself the goal of achieving a global share of 40 percent by 2025. In Germany, we are now on a really good track with 34 percent.
2022 was a positive year for the young Polestar brand. To what do you attribute this success?
von Heereman: We had a very successful 2022 and achieved our annual target of 50,000 electric cars delivered worldwide. We were also able to achieve our ambitious goals in Germany. With 7,008 new registrations, we achieved an increase of 166 percent compared to the previous year and were the fastest growing brand on the German market. We are very proud of this. This success is due above all to our very strong team, which has mastered the crises of recent years with unbelievable cohesion and motivation!
Polestar 3 and Polestar 4 are in the starting blocks? What do you expect from their market launch?
von Heereman: With the two electric SUVs Polestar 3 and Polestar 4, we have two strong offerings in an attractive market segment. Production of the Polestar 3 will start in the first quarter of 2024. The Polestar 4, recently unveiled at Auto China 2023 in Shanghai, will initially be launched in China, probably from November 2023. Market launches in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region are planned for early 2024. Overall, we expect global sales of around 60,000 to 70,000 vehicles in 2023 and are convinced that we are providing a very attractive vehicle in the form of the Polestar 2. From the 2024 model year, the Polestar 2 will feature a new high-tech front end – the SmartZone – that reflects the design language of the Polestar 3. In addition, there will be a significant increase in performance thanks to new electric motors and more powerful batteries, which will allow us to far exceed the 600 kilometer range. At the same time, our cars are becoming more sustainable, and with each model year change we are cutting emissions by improving our production. We are confident that we will achieve our goals in terms of growth and profitability.
What distinguishes the new models?
von Heereman: As always, Polestar is focusing on design, technology and sustainability and will set new standards here. The Polestar 3 is our first SUV. With this, we are entering a very attractive segment. It is our first vehicle to be equipped with the NVIDIA DRIVE Core computer with software from Volvo Cars, enabling advanced driver assistance safety features and driver monitoring. With the Polestar 4, we are taking a fundamentally new approach to SUV coupe design by completely eliminating the rear window. The rearview mirror is replaced by a high-resolution screen that displays a real-time image from a roof-mounted rearview camera, providing a much wider field of view than in common modern cars.
For those interested in Polestar: Where do you pick up your customers? What is the process of buying a car from Polestar? Key point direct sales
von Heereman: We have 100 percent online direct sales. This means that our customers can order online via our website. They can do this from the comfort of their own home. But you can also go to one of our showrooms at any time – we call them Polestar Spaces. There are now nine of these throughout Germany, mostly in prime city center locations. At the Polestar Spaces, you can get on-site advice and help if you need support during the ordering process. We want to offer different touchpoints, both online and offline. A car is often the second-largest investment after buying an apartment or a house. So it’s understandable that personal advice is still in high demand. We can ensure this both on site in our Spaces and digitally or by phone through our customer service. We have also set up handover centers to deliver the vehicles. These are already in place in Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Karlsruhe, Cologne and Munich, with Frankfurt and Berlin joining them this year. We want to consciously celebrate the special moment of the vehicle handover and take a lot of time for this. To answer questions, especially since for many it is the first electric car and of course the first Polestar. But also to welcome the buyer as part of the community.
What about customer support afterwards?
von Heereman: After-sales support is, of course, primarily provided by our customer service department. The special thing is that this is located directly at our headquarters in Cologne as a permanent part of the team. They work closely with our service partners, who now number over 200 in Germany. We are also continuing to build our Polestar Community, which enables Polestar customers to network with each other and share their experiences. As a result, we notice every day how much our customers are connected with their vehicle and thus with Polestar. In the meantime, this has developed a dynamic that we ourselves would not have expected at the beginning and that often leaves us amazed.
Polestar is a young brand. How has the brand development been successful? What are your further plans to further establish Polestar as a brand?
von Heereman: We are an electric car start-up based in Gothenburg, Sweden, founded in 2017 by Volvo Cars and China’s Geely Holding. We have been listed on Nasdaq in New York since June 2022. I’ll send this ahead so it’s clear where we’re coming from. Our connection with Volvo is very important for the brand: we can benefit from technological synergies, use Volvo’s network and build on Volvo’s good reputation. As a brand, Polestar is nevertheless independent and sets its own priorities. This makes it easier for us to break away from the established structures in the traditional automotive business and position ourselves as a digital brand. And of course, as a start-up with no past as a manufacturer of vehicles with internal combustion engines, we were able to tackle certain things faster and more consistently. As a pure electric car brand, we can fully embrace electric driving. But we are more than just an electric brand. We see ourselves as a design brand that focuses on sustainability. For us, every process starts with design. But that goes beyond just aesthetics. We ask ourselves what materials we use and where there are new sustainable ideas we can experiment with. As a new brand, we have completely different options here, as we don’t have to draw on any traditions.
How do you see the current situation with regard to electric cars in Germany?
von Heereman: The agreement from fall 2022 at the European level states that carmakers must gradually reduce total CO₂ emissions for the entire fleet. The CO₂ emissions of newly registered passenger cars in the EU are ultimately to be zero in 2035. However, the fact that there is to be an exception for so-called e-fuels, which may even be given tax benefits, is in our view an aberration that must not be allowed to divert us from the goal of climate-neutral mobility. From our point of view, there is no doubt: The future is electric. We must now make a consistent and determined commitment to electromobility – as an industry, in politics, and also at the consumer level!
Looking to the future: Where will the automotive industry go in the next 20 years? What will be the major challenges in your field?
von Heereman: The automotive industry will change faster in the next twenty years than ever before. In contrast to earlier times, however, the change will not be gradual, but radical. Software is becoming more important, purchases are increasingly being made online, and manufacturers have a responsibility to their customers thanks to direct sales. Electric cars are the future! But electric cars are not yet green per se. Electric cars will only be truly environmentally friendly when they are powered by green electricity and when we succeed in becoming climate-neutral throughout the entire value chain. This is probably the greatest challenge of our time. We have therefore set ourselves the goal of developing a climate-neutral car by 2030 – without offsetting. We want to halve greenhouse gas emissions per car sold between 2020 and 2030. By 2040, our goal is to become climate neutral as a company. We are aware that we have set ourselves very ambitious targets. But carrying on as before is not an option! That’s why we are leading by example and want to change the industry.
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