After peering out the window on a cold and wet October morning I decide against cycling across Amsterdam to visit the newly opened Lynk & Co. location. It’s times like these I wish I owned a car, but only for the half hour I actually need it.
With its unique approach to mobility, this is the very opportunity that Swedish Chinese car maker Lynk & Co. is trying to tap into. It’s a car brand, but the car is far from the company’s centerpiece. In fact, when CEO Alain Visser showed me around the new Amsterdam location, we hardly talked about the vehicle that sat caged in the middle of the space — we actually spent most of our time in the toilets, but we’ll get to that.
If you’ve not heard of Lynk & Co. — I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t — that’s because it’s been quietly bubbling along for a few years making cars for the Chinese market. But now, its debut European location is open and giving us a first look at the Lynk & Co. experience, with the actual cars due to arrive next year.
Lynk & Co. isn’t a name that immediately screams “car brand,” Visser tells me this is intentional. The name for the company was thought up, almost jovially, during a taxi ride with his colleagues.
Before the brand was released it went by the code-name: “Lynk.” Thinking of fashion brands that often use a conjunctive — such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Pull and Bear — Visser thought it was the perfect name for his car brand which is consciously trying not to be your typical car brand.
Lynk & Co. is a car, a location, a way of doing things
Before I show you round its Amsterdam “location,” I’ll tell you a little about the car and how you can own or drive one.
Like marques of old, you can still buy a Lynk & Co vehicle if you want to, or you can become a “member.” As a member you can pay a monthly fee of €500 per month, on a one-month rolling basis, to get access to your own Lynk & Co. vehicle. When you decide you don’t need the car anymore, you can give it back and cancel with just a month’s notice.
In time (when the app is out), owners will also be able to make their vehicles available to “free members” to borrow as and when they need, in a form of ride-sharing or shared ownership model. There are car share programs like this out there, but Lynk & Co.’s vehicle is decidedly more premium in feel than most cars on other schemes.
That €500 a month covers all vehicle expenses except electricity, fuel, “and parking tickets,” Visser jokes. It makes the whole thing wonderfully simple, and to be honest, after seeing the car in person it doesn’t feel like a bad deal. And that’s before you consider the little extras that you’d gain access to at Lynk & Co.’s locations, like events, room hire, and so on.
The theme of simplicity doesn’t stop there, the car itself is refreshingly simple too. There are only two options, its color. Alluding to Henry Ford’s folkloric words, Visser says “you can have it any color, so long as it’s black… or blue.”
Everything comes as standard on the plug-in hybrid Lynk & Co. 01. I’ve not driven it yet, but having a look through the controls and infotainment system, there’s no sign that it’s lacking anything. It’s kind of refreshing to know that you’re effectively buying the best specified version of something, and that no one can show off by getting a better one. It’s almost egalitarian.
It also means that if you become a free member and sign-up to use Lynk & Co.’s vehicles on an adhoc basis, every vehicle is the same, so there’s no need to worry about getting used to new controls, menu layouts, and how things work.
While it’s a shame that the 01 isn’t fully electric, it does still put emphasis on sustainability. The seats are made from recycling fishing nets, and as Visser proudly proclaims, “we don’t use leather anywhere.”
It’s about much more than the car
Sustainability is central to Lynk & Co.’s approach to, well, pretty much everything it touches.
Having worked in the motor trade industry for over 30 years, Visser is a career car-guy. He’s had high-level roles at GM, Opel, and Volvo. After a conversation with his son, who asked what he’d done for the past three decades Visser realized he wanted to do more than just sell cars.
Watching the car evolve and change dramatically over his career, Visser grew frustrated with the way in which cars are sold, owned, and used. “It’s just not sustainable,” he said.
While we should pursue to lower emissions, sustainability doesn’t stop at the tailpipe. For Visser, there are two dimensions to running Lynk & Co. as an economical and climate aware company. There’s the core product’s impact on the environment, and then there is everything that comes with how it’s used and owned.
In the case of cars, most of the time they’re parked up. According to Visser’s research — others concur — cars spend 96% of their life doing nothing. It’s hardly sustainable to have so much time, effort, materials, and resources go into a product that then sits idle.
In this sense, it’s Lynk & Co’s mission to make and sell fewer cars than traditional car brands, instead, it wants to find ways of getting the vehicles out there, and used as much as possible.
This all begins with its locations.
As Visser showed me round the minimalistic and deconstructed Amsterdam location, his enthusiasm for what Lynk & Co. is trying to do became infectious.
We begin alongside the bar where customers can be served coffee, tea, and other soft drinks from a range of ethically sourced brands.
As we turn to face the main area of the space, Visser says: “Everything you see here is for sale.”
There are some items placed neatly on tables, bookshelves, and displays, which are obviously for sale. But the bar stools made by a local artist, the rugs, the round acrylic table made from recycled plastic, and the funky lamp that looks like a Salvador Dali painting, are also up for grabs. But the place doesn’t feel like a store either, which keeps it feeling comfortable and more like a gallery than a retail outlet.
The sunglasses for sale come from a Swedish company (remember Lynk & Co. is part Swede) that uses sustainably sourced plastics. There are tea cups and saucers from a Swedish designer who has her production in Taiwan where the company is run entirely by women, something that is decidedly unconventional in the country.
The hosts at the space even gave me a face mask (for social distancing of course) that was made using off cuts of material by Atelier Opnieuw, a local Amsterdam tailor who fled Syria five years ago and now makes high-end fashion using left over excess fabrics.
There are clothes from small sustainable companies that produce their wares using organic denim and cotton sitting on rails towards the back. On the walls sit photographs showcasing local artists.
“It’s not our intention to make Lynk & Co. merchandise, but to highlight local products that embody our brand and approach,” Visser says.
All the display cabinets are made from recycled and reclaimed materials too. There’s even feature tables being used to display plants that are made from crushed and compacted cars.
Visser’s enthusiasm peaks as he guides me to the toilets: “We’ve had a lot of jokes and discussions internally about what they should be like,” he says. Weary but intrigued, I follow.
“We said they need to be the joke of the club,” he adds. Indeed, they’re certainly a joke alright.
There are six doors, only two of which are actual toilets. The rest all hold gaffs, jokes, and quips behind them.
My favoriteis the Looney Tunes styled door which when opened, reveals another slightly smaller door. On opening the second door, another door, smaller still, is revealed. You get the idea…
It’s hilarious, but thinking back every time I’ve been somewhere with cool or fun toilets, I’ve told people about it. So I don’t doubt that it’ll get people talking.
Finally, Lynk & Co.’s location has an event space and a couple of meeting rooms which, when not being used by the company, can be used by members. The event space will be used by Lynk & Co. to host anything from music events, intimate gigs, art exhibitions, and so on.
So what is it?
I’ve been calling it a location, which sounds decidedly weak and vague, but I’m yet to find the right word for it. Ultimately, in business speak, it’s a brand showcase. That’s not a bad thing per se, particularly when that brand is championing other brands focused on sustainability, but it doesn’t do it justice.
The location itself isn’t the mobility concept, the car and Lynk & Co. app (out next March) is. The location certainly isn’t a car dealership, while the car is there, it’s largely a secondary or even tertiary element to what Lynk & Co. is doing there. And it’s certainly more than a trendy place to swing by and have a coffee at.
In a sense, it’s a kind of clubhouse for Lynk & Co. owners. But I don’t feel that’s the entire story. Sure, it’s a tiny part car showroom, but it’s also a coffee shop, art gallery, boutique, and event space. So it’s hard to pigeonhole.
Anyone is welcome to stop by, browse the sustainable wares, have a refreshing beverage, and spend 20 minutes trying to find their way out the loos. I sat in the corner for a while just to spectate, and a few dozen people wandered in inquisitively, which was a little surprising.
It’s on a high street in the center of Amsterdam, a city famed for the bicycle. On one hand, it doesn’t seem like a good fit. Then again, there are plenty of people here who don’t own cars and don’t want to, but might need one for a weekend every few months. Just because a place can be pro-bike doesn’t mean it’s totally anti-car.
My one concern is if people are going to understand it. To the traditional car buyer, it’s a big departure from the norm. There are no salespeople, there’s no complex car options to navigate, and the atmosphere is homely and chilled. It’s gezellig, as the Dutch would say, rather than sterile like most car dealerships I’ve been in. That’s before explaining the totally new ownership model.
Given that Lynk & Co’s vehicles and app won’t arrive until spring next year though, there’s plenty of time for people to get up to speed on how it all works.
For now, the marque is sticking to highlighting cool brands that champion a similarly mindful approach to their product. So when cars are here in spring people should hopefully know that Lynk & Co. is a car brand, but not like one you’ve seen before.
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