We’ll understand if you struggle to get past the ampersand in its grammatically questionable company name—Ford’s luxury brand is right there with you—but the new Lynk & Co 01, a compact SUV, could well be the first vehicle from a Chinese brand to break big in the United States. That is, when it eventually gets here.
The 01 went on sale in late November in China, where the initial allocation of 6000 cars sold out in just over two minutes, according to the company. We got the chance to drive it at an official launch event conducted, somewhat improbably, on a racetrack. Considering the unlikely environment, a full conclusion will have to wait, but we can report that the basics seem promising.
the 2019 Volvo XC40, and it uses the same three- and four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engines. At least in China, anyway. We were told that all European versions will be hybrids, and it seems likely that the U.S. models will follow that example when they show up in 2020, roughly two years after their Volvo sibling.
The examples we drove were both fitted with a 2.0-liter inline-four that musters 190 horsepower, equivalent to the T4 spec of the upcoming XC40. One was a front-driver with a conventional six-speed automatic, while the other had a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and all-wheel drive. Add the manual transmission fitted to basic versions in China, and this means that Lynk & Co is offering three gearboxes with two engines, although we were told that the torque-converter automatic is a stopgap solution that likely won’t stick around for long.
That’s probably a good thing. In the unlikely crucible of Geely’s privately owned 2.5-mile Ningbo racecourse, the automatic transmission struggled to keep its composure, being reluctant to kick down a gear under heavy throttle while doing so too willingly under gentler use. The handling balance was also predictably biased toward understeer, although easing the throttle brought the nose back into line obediently. Positives include accurate steering and soft suspension settings that, even though they led to predictable body roll on track, should translate to reasonable compliance on the street. Sadly, we could find no bumps to confirm how the 01 rides. It seems quiet at a cruising pace, but the engine grows vocal when asked to deliver its all, as it does in the Volvo.
Switching to the all-wheel-drive version proved that the dual-clutch is far better, swapping ratios with more intelligence and pizazz under its own direction and also gaining shift paddles to allow manual selection. This is the gearbox that will feature in the forthcoming three-cylinder hybrid version, which employs an electric motor to turn the rear axle while internal combustion powers the front wheels. The all-wheel-drive system cut down the front-driver’s tendency to run wide under power, but it didn’t turn the 01 into a track star. We suspect it will cope considerably better with the real world.
without establishing a conventional dealership network. Servicing will be handled by existing Volvo outlets, but they won’t sell any Lynk products. Retail outlets will be Apple-style stores in malls and urban centers. While we don’t have full details for the U.S. strategy, we were told that it will likely follow the lead of China and Europe (where sales begin in 2019) with heavy reliance on a subscription model. It will also be possible to buy a Lynk & Co car for hard cash—at what company boss Alain Visser assured us will be a very competitive price—but the prediction is that 70 percent of the vehicles will effectively be leased on a short-term rolling contract that Visser likened to a Netflix or Spotify subscription.
You’re thinking that this is a car for hipsters, aren’t you? If so, you could be right. Lynk is explicitly making cars designed to appeal to commitment-phobic millennials. The brand’s core team in Sweden is the youngest in the industry; the average age of employees is just 34, and more than 50 percent are women. The target demographic, the company reckons, is less possessive than older buyers, so the plan is to offer a range of sharing options including, ultimately, even the ability for nominal owners to rent out their cars to offset some of the monthly cost. Choice will be limited, with generous standard equipment and no option packages, and the stated aim is to offer six to eight variants of each model, a total that includes exterior colors. In China, the four available specifications are called Clear Lite, Hyper Pro, Inter Pro, and Louder Pro, which sound more like the members of a sci-fi music collective than an automotive range. There’s a plan, too, to offer free connectivity and a lifetime warranty on all Lynk models.
The subscription business model also means that Lynk & Co will continue to own most of the cars it produces, with the further twist that once cars return from their initial lease, they will likely be refurbished to enter a second or even a third cycle, giving customers the option to choose an older car at a lower cost. It would be “like getting an iPhone 7 for less money than an iPhone X,” as Visser put it. And after those subsequent cycles? The current plan, for Europe at least, is to scrap cars rather than release them into the wild where they might do harm to the brand’s image of newness and cutting-edge technology. We could be entering the era of the disposable car.
By the time Lynk & Co reaches the U.S. market, some of this may well change, of course—and it will be arriving as a brand rather than a single model, with the 02 crossover and the 03 sedan set to launch in China ahead of 01 sales beginning in the United States. There’s certainly no shortage of ambition: Visser asserts that the company plans to produce 500,000 vehicles a year for distribution across all global markets by 2021.