“This is not a car, this is different” is how Lynk & Co, a company spawned by Volvo and Geely, is positioning the launch of its 01 plug-in hybrid, a compact SUV built from the ground up to share. The more you share its digital key the less you pay each month, possibly even turning a profit.
It’s a bold experiment that I was able to preview in a test vehicle in Amsterdam, where Lynk & Co is staging its first salvo against a century of car ownership mentality.
Lynk & Co first announced its ambitious approach to car sharing five years ago in its home city of Gothenburg, Sweden, emboldened by studies that say cars sit unused 96 percent of the time. That’s valuable real estate that could otherwise be returned to people. So it’s with some anticipation that I set out for my week with a production 01 PHEV running pre-production sharing software.
Amsterdam was chosen as Lynk & Co’s launch city for a variety of reasons, chief among them is its multi-modal inhabitants’ intimacy with car-sharing services. My Dutch family, for example, has never owned a car, nor do most of my friends. Instead we use fleet sharing services like Greenwheels, Mywheels, or Share Now. Otherwise we use a personal car-sharing service like Snappcar when looking for something more interesting to drive. As much as we love our electric bicycles, a car is often needed when an e-scooter, taxi, bus, or train just won’t do.
After a week of testing I’ve come away increasingly optimistic about Lynk & Co’s chances, not only to achieve its revenue goals but also its broader societal goal of making people realize that traditional ideas of car ownership, especially in densely populated cities, are woefully outdated. My optimism is fueled by three things: the company’s early success in attracting members, driving the 01 for a few hundred kilometers, and testing an early beta version of the sharing service.
A PROMISING START
You can buy a Lynk & Co 01 outright for €39,000, but most people are opting for memberships that cost €500 each month. That’s about what you’d pay each month on a four-year lease for a comparable Volvo XC40 which is built upon the same platform as the 01. Only with Lynk & Co you can cancel the agreement at any time. Better yet, you can divide the monthly fee with family and friends, or reduce it further by lending the car out to a general pool of neighbors and tourists at an hourly or daily rate, all of which Lynk & Co will facilitate (more on that later).
Membership includes 1,250km (777 miles) of driving per month with each extra kilometer costing €0.15, with unused kilometers carrying over to the next month. The €500/month fee covers insurance, warranty repairs, roadside assistance, and maintenance by Volvo’s dealer network. And because the 01 uses a digital key, Volvo can pick up your car, service it, and return it while you go about your activities. (You get a loaner vehicle if service needs more than a day.) The monthly fee doesn’t cover damage out of warranty, fuel costs, charging fees, or any costs associated with parking.
Lynk & Co’s manager of press relations, Cecilia Hedlund, tells me that only about 10 percent of paying customers actually buy the car, with the rest signing up for the €500 monthly memberships. So far they’ve attracted almost double the number of paying month-to-month members as expected for all of 2021, and we’re only six months into the year. Of the 9,000 memberships expected, Hedlund says it already has 16,000 members signed up to pay monthly subscriptions for a car, with most residing in Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Belgium. That number is important because Lynk & Co’s financial success stems from selling memberships, not from the small transaction fees it gets from facilitating each car share. The company is now busy ramping up deliveries with about 300 cars delivered so far.
Lynk & Co has sold a non-shareable 01 model in China since 2017. The 01 I’ve been testing has been thoroughly updated for Europe, both inside and out, with sharing made possible through the implementation of Ericsson’s Connected Vehicle Cloud.
I’m not a car guy, but I am a car sharing guy, having used a multitude of sharing services since at least 2014. The 01 is far nicer than any of the fleet cars available to share in Amsterdam, though I do wish it was fully electric. (An EV is coming, but not any time soon, I’m told.) The cars from fleet sharing services tend to be exceedingly boring base models like the VW Up! or Citroën C1 that come slathered in external advertising. Every 01 ships without ads and comes fully equipped to restore some dignity to using a shared vehicle. All 01s are the same — the only option for members is the choice of blue or black.
Because it’s Volvo, the 01 comes standard with most modern safety features like adaptive cruise control, emergency braking and forward collision warnings, automatic LED lights and rain sensors, driver alertness control, blind spot detection, a camera for backing up, security alarm, and more. Thankfully, sensors on the front, rear, and sides of the compact SUV enable a semi-autonomous parking feature which is very useful for the tiny parking spots available in dense European cities.
It’s also loaded with conveniences like a powered driver seat with memory presets, large panoramic sunroof, powered tailgate, heated seats, automatic AC with zone control, a punchy ten speaker Infinity sound system, and a built-in hands-free voice assistant named Frank (at least on my car).
The 01 is fitted with two large displays. There’s a 12.7 inch touchscreen display on the center console with support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But the built-in turn-by-turn navigation provided by Here Technologies on the 12.3 inch instrument cluster in front of the driver proved superior to both Google and Apple Maps for navigating Dutch roads.
To keep your devices charged there’s a wireless charging pad between the driver- and front-passenger seats. Otherwise, your devices can be juiced from any of four USB jacks (two front, two rear), or two 12V outlets (front and in the rear cargo area). You can also save on your phone’s data plan when connected to the car’s Wi-Fi hotspot thanks to Lynk & Co’s built-in 4G data. It’s limited to 5GB a month but that can extended with a call to Lynk & Co’s engagement center under a fair-use policy (borrowers can not use the car’s hotspot). Hell, there’s even an integrated dashcam with 64GB of storage and a second in-car selfie camera for god knows what reason.
The interior surfaces look and feel good to the touch, including the eco-friendly textile coverings on the seats made from recycled fishing nets. The Econyl fabric easily withstood my dog’s claws and resisted the grime we tracked in while kitesurfing the muddy shores of Dutch waterways. The seats remained comfortable on chilly mornings and hot afternoons, even against bare thighs.
And because it’s built to share, the 01 has a number of useful remote monitoring features. For example, I could see the status of the climate control system, if the windows were up, or if a door was left open or unlocked from the comfort of my home. I could even lock or unlock the doors. The Lynk & Co app also informed me of the fuel remaining and charge on the battery, any service warnings, and current location of the vehicle.
It really was a joy to drive around in something so modern and high-spec after years of drudgery spent inside entry-level automobiles. The 261hp provided by the 01 was thrilling compared to the 60hp we’re used to from fleet sharing vehicles. And the 70km range on battery was enough to reach the beach and back, and for my wife to drive to work where she could easily charge the car from a standard power outlet before her journey home.
Lynk & Co’s sharing model allows paying members to lend their cars to free members who sign up just to borrow. Signing up isn’t exactly frictionless though, as you have to upload a valid driver’s license and photo, enter payment details, and pass both credit and identity checks. Standard stuff for car-sharing services and traditional rental car companies alike.
To be successful, car-sharing companies must maintain a magic ratio of vehicles-to-borrows. Too many vehicles and expenses will outpace revenue. Not enough vehicles and frustrated borrowers will jump to a competitor. In my neighborhood alone, I have four Greenwheels sitting in dedicated city-allocated parking spots within a two-block radius, for example.
It’s hard to imagine Lynk & Co achieving that kind of density anytime soon. In fact, Lynk & Co’s head of car sharing, Adam Broadbent, tells me that the company won’t meet its target ratio of ten borrowers (free members) to every vehicle at launch of the sharing service in Q3. Nevertheless, it knows that most paying members are keen to become lenders in order to bring down their monthly payments and maximize vehicle use.
To compensate for this lack of borrower-to-lender density, later this year, but soon after launch, the company will add a friends and family lending option. Paying members will be able to share digital keys with a small group of trusted people who agree to share the monthly fee. One person, however, will still be on the hook to sign up and pay for the €500/month membership, I’m told. How Lynk & Co will facilitate this to ensure everyone is paying their fair share for usage is still unclear. The beta software I tested didn’t include a friends and family sharing option.
Lynk & Co let me preview a beta version of the Lynk & Co app launching in Q3. Sharing is straightforward, allowing lenders (paying members with cars) to set the time, location, price, and conditions of borrowing. Once shared, the car appears on a map showing its availability to free members. Members with cars can also initiate sharing from the car’s display, though I wasn’t able to test that.
Borrowing a car is as simple as agreeing to the terms set by the lender. Once agreed, a digital key is sent to the borrower which can be used to unlock the car via the Lynk & Co app (using Bluetooth). Lenders and borrowers have star ratings, and cars can be filtered by time and location, and any additional equipment like roof rack, tow hook, or child seat. Importantly, kilometers used by borrowers do not apply to the monthly cap of the lender.
The digital key exchange means the borrower and lender never have to meet in person. But Lynk & Co offers lenders some additional protection from creeps by withholding the exact location of the car until 30 minutes before the booking starts, giving the lender time to park the car within the advertised start / end locations, and as far away from their home or business as desired.
I was able to test a lender / borrower scenario using two developer phones (one setup as the lender, the other the borrower) provided by Lynk & Co. In my live test, the borrower phone connected to the lender’s car when I was about five feet (1.5 meters) from it, prompting me to submit a condition report, including five photos taken from around the car at various angles. Only after uploading the photos did the digital key become active on the borrower phone, allowing me to unlock the car. Once inside, the borrower can log into their profile on the center console to download all their preferences. Both the phone and in-car console apps will guide the borrower through the sharing experience, with a countdown timer and reminder to drop-off the lender’s car at the agreed upon time, fuel level, and destination area. I wasn’t able to test these borrower features, however.
When the lending period is over, the borrower must again upload five photos to confirm the external condition. Only then can the borrower complete the booking, notifying the lender that the car has been returned. (A booking can be extended by up to two additional hours with approval from the lender.) Lynk & Co checks the fuel level at the start and end of the booking and uses the delta to either add or take money off the final price. The car must also be at least as clean as the borrower found it, otherwise penalties could be incurred. Lynk & Co says it adds a €100 buffer to every reservation to cover costs of booking extensions, late returns, and fuel costs, and will provide lenders with all information needed to challenge any traffic tickets incurred by a borrower.
Lynk & Co’s Broadbent anticipates sharing prices to be around €5 to €10 per hour, and €50 to €100 to borrow it for a day. For comparison, owners of nearby Volvo SUVs on the Snappcar sharing service list their cars for between €65 and €110 per day. If you only need your Lynk & Co 01 during the week, for example, you can see how quickly sharing can offset that €500/mth membership fee. Broadbent says that a recommended pricing feature is coming to help members with cars maximize profits when sharing.
Right now there’s no ability for a lender to schedule a car’s availability only on weekends or a set number of days during the week in the beta app I tested, but that’s coming, says Broadbent. I work from home so I could easily share the car Monday through Friday and block it out for my personal use on weekends. In such a scenario, I could even turn a profit once enough borrowers were vying for my car.
Airport sharing is another feature that’s coming. Members with cars can drive to the airport and travelers flying in would get precise directions along with a digital key to use the car while you’re out of town. At the moment, Lynk & Co only accepts category B drivers licenses from a list of 30 European countries.
For what it’s worth, I asked around my own social circle to see who’d be interested in sharing an 01. Two out of four of my friends already using sharing services responded positively with what I’d describe as keen interest, while the other two said it sounded promising but wanted more information. For example, how will friends and family sharing be facilitated, and how will monthly bills be calculated so that fuel / energy costs and usage are all factored in fairly? Understandably, the person who orders a Jack and Coke at the bar doesn’t want to subsidize someone else’s Pappy Van Winkle.
When I look at my own car-sharing bill for the last year, I see months where I’ve paid over €400 and others that cost me less than €50 (including the gas). It averages out to about €200/mth over the long term. While I’m willing to pay more for a more luxurious car that’s better suited to my active family of five (plus dog), and one that’s shared with a limited trusted group that won’t leave McDonalds bags in the footwells, I also think I’d want to share with at least two other parties to keep costs down.
“Owning” a Lynk & Co 01 really does have the potential to be different. The fact that I’m actively considering paying €500 a month to become a member says a lot about my experience with the car ahead of its official Q3 sharing launch.
All photos by Thomas Ricker / The Verge unless otherwise credited