Elon Musk has already teased a time when you can set your Tesla into Autopilot while you're busy at work, allowing it to Uber autonomously until you need it to drive home. It’s an idealistic vision of the sharing economy, one that will only be possible when auto manufacturers integrate such services at their core.
But while Musk has only teased that feature for some vague future date, a new car brand called Lynk & Co aims to get pretty close by 2017. The company’s first car, a compact SUV dubbed the 01, is designed to perform a remarkable trick: Whenever you won’t be driving it for a while, you can put it into Share Mode. Your vehicle’s availability is posted on a social network (which sounds as closed or open as you want it to be, with you defining who can share the vehicle). For someone to borrow your car, they simply reserve it, walk up, and unlock the vehicle with their phone using a Lynk & Co app.
Helmed by Alain Visser—the former SVP Sales, Marketing, and Aftersales at Volvo—Lynk & Co is distinguished not so much by the car itself but its internet and app connectivity (and all of the next-gen services that connectivity could theoretically unlock). The vehicle’s chassis and drive frame—all the classic vehicular components—are built upon a car platform engineered by CEVT that's shared with companies like Volvo. (Technically, Zhejiang Geely Holding owns both Volvo and Geely Auto, the latter of which of Lynk & Co is a subsidiary.) Meanwhile, the connectivity has been built by Lynk & Co through partnerships with Alibaba, Ericsson, and Microsoft.
The 01 is designed to be an internet-connected car at its core. That starts from when you buy it—online rather than through a dealer. Lynk & Co’s model sets you up with a longer-term identity more akin to a Facebook profile than a faceless car owner. You could theoretically sign up for Lynk & Co, buy a car through a website, have it delivered, drive it for years, loan it out, then sell it off, and at no time would you be dealing with car showrooms or MSRPs.
Lynk & Co's vision is essentially the car as an API, an expanded version of what accessories like Automatic offer today by enabling users to control and monitor their cars through their phones. In other words, just as your iPhone has a camera—but Instagram turned that camera into a billion dollar business—Lynk & Co is loaded with technologies like electronic locks that will be useful on their own to buyers, but it will also let third party apps leverage them in entirely new ways through software. Share Mode is a perfect example of this. Lynk & Co enables it with the most capable electronic lock system offered by a car company so far. But in the hands of a third party, it might become a whole new business.
So could you rent out your Lynk & Co car using Share Mode when it’s not in use to make money? Not at launch. It's just sharing with a group of people you define, rather than renting it to another user. And as of now, renting doesn’t seem to be a transaction that Lynk & Co wants any part of. That said, it wouldn’t stop another company from building that capability, which gets us to the core value proposition of Lynk & Co. "The cool thing is, that functionality can be repurposed by people to come," says CTO David Green. "Maybe a company pool car. Or a startup that wanted to run a car sharing company. Or a block of flats that wanted, instead of a car for each tenant, a micro-pool of cars that could be shared."
This looseness with specifics reoccurs throughout my conversation with Green, which is filled with "maybes" and "what ifs." As a result, it's a bit difficult to pin down exactly which parts of Lynk & Co will definitely be included in the 01 when it launches next year, and which parts are more technological idealism. How much of Lynk & Co's promise is dependent upon hitting a critical mass where, like Facebook or iOS, enough people are using it to attract developers to build for it? That seems unclear, but it doesn't stop Green's sales pitch from being any less attractive.
"If you forget this segmented relationship between a dealer and brand, and break down all the walls, you become the identity, it’s all built around you, and everyone is targeted at serving you," says Green. "If you want to sell your car—and we haven’t done this! I’m just thinking of it—you could click a button on your car and say, sell this on the internet as a used car. People could bid on your car, see the service record—it’s all a contained piece of information. That’s an advantage to you as a customer but with a modern, omni channel, cloud-based solution that you can deploy around the world."
Yet while Lynk & Co clearly has global ambitions, the company will launch first in China in 2017. The strategy of launching with car sharing as a priority in China makes sense, as it's in high demand across the country. Meanwhile, Lynk & Co is eyeing its entry into the U.S. market in 2018.
As for that the 01 will cost when that day comes?
"What we’re aiming for is a premium car at a mass market price," says Green. Uber subsidies not included.
[All Images: via Lynk & Co.]