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Lynk & Co is a pretty bold company and, speaking to CEO Alain Visser, it’s clear that attitude goes all the way to the top.
“Why change something that is working well?” says Visser. “The car industry is profitable and nobody sees the need to change. And, from my personal view, if I can be very frank, suddenly the whole car industry says that it’s sustainable – I think it’s bullshit.
“If your business is based on maximising the sale of a product that stands still for 96% of the time, whether it’s electric or not, that is not sustainable.”
Lynk & Co, by contrast, doesn’t primarily sell cars – at least in Europe anyway. Instead, the company offers its cars as part of a subscription service starting from €500 per month that can be cancelled within a month. Insurance, maintenance, and everything else is taken care of in the package. The cars can also be shared around between friends and family, which can then reduce your monthly fees.
You can even get a carless membership, allowing you to borrow a car whenever you need it without paying a monthly fee.
“It was a bit of an experiment,” says Visser. “We had done as much as preparation and research as possible and we thought [the business model] had potential but had no idea how it would be perceived in the marketplace.”
“We had a target of 9,000 members for Europe this year and we’re currently at just under 30,000 – so we are way above our wildest expectations!”
Speaking from the company’s Gothenburg base over a video call, Visser looks every inch the CEO of a trendy, disruptive brand with thin, round glasses and a roll neck jumper.
However, he’s personable and laidback, cracking jokes and clearly enthused about the progress the company is making.
“Excitement is probably the right word,” he says “what surprises us most of all is that we had decided two years ago that we were also going to offer the cars for sale to minimise the risk. We thought it would be quite arrogant if somebody came in and said ‘I want to buy it’ and we said ‘No.’ Interestingly enough, from our 30,000 members that have currently signed up less than 5% are buying the car.”
“I always tell the team, it’s like we are Spotify but you can also buy our CDs – and we’re happy that people are not really buying the CDs, they’re buying the music.”
The company is growing apace, as well.
“We’re growing fast, we were 150 in January and now we’re over 500,” Visser says, grinning. “I always mention it, but it’s the car industry and they don’t really care but I do, 50% of our employees are female and, in an industry that is such as boy’s world, I’m very proud that we have a mobility company with 50% women.”
However, as well as trying to become the Spotify of car buying, Lynk & Co is offering its members the chance to use clubs – essentially trendy hubs for people to work and socialise in. Currently, the company has clubs in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and, of course, Gothenburg.
“I always see our clubs as a marketing expense, more than a distribution network,” Visser explains. “Of course, you can book a test drive and we also deliver cars there but I see our clubs more as people getting to know the brand – to feel it and experience it.”
“We see it as a hangout place,” he continues, “When I go to the one here in Gothenburg, we see people coming to drink a coffee, open their laptops and start working – and that’s what we wanted it to be, almost not directly connected to the car.”
As you’d expect, the clubs have a relatively industrial look, featuring lots of exposed concrete and metalwork. However, they’re interspersed with soft corner sofas in bright but muted tones.
Of course, for a car company based on a sharing model and offering members’ clubs located in trendy European cities, it might seem that Lynk & Co’s message of inclusivity is excluding more rural and, perhaps, older customers.
“Yes, we are specifically targeting urban areas because we knew that they would be the most interested as owning a car in cities has become even less convincing, to put it that way.”
“But young drivers?” says Visser, “I would say no. Initially – and I’m talking five years ago – we were talking about millennials but we’ve now learnt, first of all, that millennials hate to be called millennials and, secondly, that it’s not about age but it’s about mentality.
“We see that the age group of our members is much wider and so we’ve targeted the mindset more than the age. The latest information I have is that the average age of our members is about 35, which is young compared to other car brands but much older than the average millennial.”
For a business based on lending cars to a predominantly urban and relatively young user base, one would be forgiven for thinking that Lynk & Co has had a particularly rough time with the pandemic.
“The COVID situation has not helped us on a lot of fronts, like activating our clubs,” says Visser. “But it has also, in a way, helped us that people are questioning even more whether buying a car in today’s world is really the answer.”
The car-sharing aspect of Lynk & Co’s business, however, hasn’t taken too much of a hit.
“In our data,” says Visser, “we haven’t really seen an impact. What we have seen is people buying fewer cars and basically holding off purchases. I also have to admit that we’ve only recently started to offer the sharing service so it’s difficult to measure the impact of COVID.”
“However, we don’t see people being very reserved in sharing their cars now that we’ve launched the service, so it’s difficult for me to concretely say how it has been impacted by COVID.”
While the subscription and sharing model seems to be playing well in Europe, Lynk & Co is offering a more traditional car-buying experience in Asia.
In China, for example, Visser says the pickup has been “spectacular.”
“I think that’s not exaggerated,” he continues, “it’s a super cool brand and we have now decided to expand from the Chinese market into other Asian markets. In this case, I think we’re talking about Kuwait and Israel which, of course, are small markets with small volumes with the traditional business model.”
“In those [Asian] markets we still saw the need to buy cars. When we tested our business model – I mean the European business model in China – the potential customers were actually offended! They said we can now finally buy a car in China, and buying a car is relatively new and cool, ‘why would pay €500 or whatever per month?’ They were offended by it.”
Of course, whilst the Asian market presents unique challenges for Lynk & Co, its European success is making waves throughout the car-buying landscape.
“I am proud to say,” says Visser, “that we see quite a lot of copies happening. I find it interesting that now you head the concept of subscription in Germany – they call it abonnement – and I find it a bit of marketing blah blah because most of these subscriptions are just leases.”
“Our fundamental differentiation is that you can stop the contract after one month. With a leasing contract, that’s not the case at all. Plus, with ours, within a month you can reduce your cost by sharing your car.”
“I always tell my team, you can copy and product and you can copy a service, what you can’t copy is the experience.”