Kindred spirits: Öhlins
Öhlins is a Swedish suspension company, creating high-performance systems and components for the automotive, motorcycle, mountain bike and motorsport industries. We recently spoke with CEO Henrik Johansson about creating suspension for fully electric vehicles, the importance of being the “original gold”, and sharing the Shanghai stage with Thomas Ingenlath.
Can you start by briefly introducing yourself?
My name is Henrik Johansson, and I started working for Öhlins almost 25 years ago. I ran the CES business for a while, I was Head of Operations, and spent two years building up our facilities in Thailand. The last five years I’ve been CEO of the company.
How did the collaboration with Polestar come about?
That’s actually quite a long story. In the beginning, Öhlins components were always an aftermarket option, and then we started creating products for OE customers. We were contacted by Thomas Ingenlath and his team because he felt that the performance that our products offer are an important part of the Polestar story. I was actually on the stage there in Shanghai when the brand was launched, together with Thomas.
What makes Polestar a brand that Öhlins wants to collaborate with?
We think that electric mobility is the future, and that the importance of suspension is the same regardless of the drivetrain. In fact, we have even bigger challenges with BEVs because they’re completely silent. There’s absolutely no cover for noises generated by the suspension or the chassis, at all.
There’s a much narrower margin for NVH* in an electric car.
Yeah, we noticed that.
In April 2019, Öhlins stopped the use of methylene chloride in production processes. What more can you say about Öhlins’ move towards greater sustainability and being more environmentally friendly?
We try to follow the market and the industry. We are already heavily involved in Formula E for instance, along with the coming electric version of MotoGP. Five or six years ago, we also focused heavily on entering the mountain bike and e-bike market. As I said before, we believe emission free mobility is the future, addressing the need to move around cities and commute without polluting the environment.
Besides the shared Swedish heritage, and the collaboration with CAKE, do you see any other similarities between Öhlins and Polestar?
We will never stop until every detail, every component, every product is perfect. And that’s exactly what I have seen from Thomas Ingenlath and his team. I also think that Polestar and Öhlins, along with CAKE, use the same Nordic design language. Everything from the logotype of Polestar to the car interior and exterior is aligned with what we at Öhlins like to do.
One of our accent colours is synced with the Öhlins signature gold. Is there a story behind that colour?
That was what Kenth (Öhlin) started with. He just took what he thought was beautiful at that time. And he came back to that continuously. Now, we see that all of our competitors, especially on the two-wheeled side of things, have golden outer tubes on the front forks. Ten years ago, when we were really fed up with this, we invented the slogan “the original gold”. And we still have that on several of our product packages.
While our team was testing the suspension, there were a few Öhlins engineers on-site. How involved were they in the testing process? Was this level of involvement unique to Polestar?
For an OEM program, we always do this with the OEM ride engineers. That’s pretty much standard for us. But with Polestar, it’s so convenient. We speak the same language, the engineers on both sides have known each other for a long time, and there’s a lot of mutual respect. I think it’s a very good partnership.
Have you driven a Polestar 1 yourself? If so, what did you think? What surprised you about it?
I’ve been in the Polestar 1, yes. The design really drew me in. The performance, when using the throttle and taking it out for a spin, is fantastic. Making a car that huge handle and respond like that is amazing. Actually, what I’m driving right now is a Volvo XC60 with the Polestar Engineered package (featuring Öhlins suspension). Even on that car, Polestar has managed to create a dynamic, responsive feeling out of it. I think that’s really amazing.
*Noise, Vibration and Harshness, what occupants can hear from a car as it’s travelling.
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We need to make the right choice the desirable one. Electric mobility is the right choice. Its benefits, from the environmental to the economical, are obvious. And through design, technology, and innovation, we make the right choice the desirable one. People switch because they want the product, as well as the benefits.