Debuting Lynk & Co’s Tech-Laden Compact SUV: The 01

A global car brand launches their first direct-to-consumer vehicle in Berlin

Automobiles were only invented 130 years ago, taking over for the horse for personal travel. In the last 100 years, according to Alain Visser the Senior Vice President of Lynk & Co (and former Vice President of Global Marketing and Sales for Geely Auto Group—parent company of this brand as well as Volvo), not much has changed within the industry, business model or concept itself. Visser admits that the world didn’t necessarily need another car brand but a new system altogether—and that was the starting point for Lynk & Co. Today in Berlin, Lynk & Co debuted, and with the new brand came its first model, the 01. From afar the 01 might not look that much different than what’s presently on the road (perhaps looking a bit like a Citroën and Porsche combination), but upon closer inspection, there’s a lot to be excited about. There are external design nuances a plenty, the model will be sold direct-to-consumer in a cost saving effort, and technology factors in heavily.

Before we touch on anything further regarding design, it’s worth delving into a digital feature that truly caught our attention. The 01, and all Lynk & Co cars, feature an internal “Share” button. When this is activated within the car, it pings a dedicated app and lets people know the vehicle is not in use. The car can then be rented by the hour as an additional revenue stream. There’s already an Airbnb-for-cars out there called Turo, but this is different. This is all Lynk & Co and it’s all vetted. While not everyone might be into the idea, it’s this sort of app-based thinking that defines where the brand is heading. It’s one of those positive attributes running parallel to the open API tech platform working inside, and, again, the direct-to-consumer approach. Further, servicing the vehicle can be scheduled, and is done by pick-up and drop-off. All of this leads Visser to refer to the 01 as a “smartphone on wheels.” Smart it is: there’s a large central touchscreen and telematics systems, both of which are always connected to the internet and the car’s internal cloud.

Stepping out for a wider theoretical look, Lynk & Co as a brand can best be understood by its dual developmental history. The car has been designed and engineered in Sweden and, much like Volvo, it counts safety as a top priority. It’s built upon a Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), however. CMA means an advanced modular structure is at its core, capable of accommodating many body styles. This innovation stems from China Euro Vehicle Technology (CEVT), otherwise known as Geely and Volvo’s research and development team. The CMA is already acclaimed for its structural integrity but it doesn’t hurt that it’s rapidly reproduced and very dynamic. So here we have a car that’s both European and Chinese from design to execution.

With the design language of this vehicle, Lynk & Co isn’t just putting out a car, they’re declaring expectations from an entire brand. To best understand their intention we spoke with Andreas Nilsson, head of design at CEVT. Regarding why they launched with an SUV, he says, “It was actually given to us in the brief: to make a compact SUV. It’s the fastest growing market in China right now. They’re the market we are launching in first. When launching a new brand, to establish the biggest impact, you target the largest market.” After China, the 01 will quickly be available in Europe and then the US. He makes clear that this does not mean they’re only doing SUVs—there’s more to come.

The design development is a three-year story for Nilsson and his team (now 170-strong, though once only six). “We started sketching away,” he begins. “First, we secured a good proportion which is key to any good looking car. We had the body and dimensions intact. Then we asked, ‘What’s our identity?’ All the sketches were going to where the designers came from: Bentley, Ford, Saab, Kia. It took us months to push that away. We had workshops discussing who we should—and would—be.”

Through these workshops, they settled on four attributes that defined the brand’s design language. The first became the term “respect.” As Nilsson explains, “The only thing that gives this brand credibility is who is doing it. It’s us. We have the history.” Second, he notes “personal” became the next step. “We can express this all by making the car personal. From a strong, unique face to the pre-packaged select styles that appeal to specific consumers.” Sheer, lengthly lines meet a voluptuous, powerful body, contributing to both of these parameters.

“New tech” became the next touchpoint. This manifests (among other features) in really striking lamps, which Nilsson says are “a fusion of East-meets-West.” And finally, “dark” rounds out the attributes. This translates to “having the guts to be different. Carrying attitude. Not being ashamed of who we are. And driving with mystique.” As for his favorite features, he calls attention to the angle of the passenger windows and their decision to reverse the antennae. Touches like this appear everywhere.

Launching in Berlin, the brand wanted to call out their European roots. While, in some ways, it’s also a challenge to German car brands. With a mission to produce the best vehicle in the industry, all while becoming the first Chinese manufacturer with a global footprint, the stakes have been set high. Prices haven’t been announced, nor have broad release dates (though 2017 was mentioned) but with flourishes like being the first car with a dedicated app store, all of Lynk & Co’s updates will surely garner attention.

Touchscreen image courtesy of Lynk & Co, all other images by David Graver