If you’re contemplating the future of the automotive industry, you might do worse than looking to Poland. Automobiles make up 11% of the country’s manufacturing base and 4% of the GDP, with factories rolling out buses and trucks, as well as cars and parts for global brands. Yet, there has not been a Poland-designed-and-built automobile since the collapse of the Iron Curtain (unless you count the Arrinera supercar, which you may when it comes out this year, or perhaps next, or maybe the year after that).
But now, two entries into the consumer market are pointing the way to Poland’s grand automotive future. And it is a forked road indeed.
First out of the blocks (though certainly more slowly) is the Sam, a colourful two-in-front trike with a smile like a cartoon skull. Built in small numbers between 2001 and 2003 by now-defunct Swiss startup Cree, it was revived (with improvements to performance and range) by Polish startup Impact Automotive Technologies in 2008. The car seats two riders in tandem, and has all of the things you need to be road legal, such as seat belts, mirrors, lights, and a windshield wiper. It also has fancy gullwing doors that fold with less fuss than a Tesla Model X’s. The body itself rests on a steel centre beam, and is made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE, or “recycling symbol 2” on trash day), which is the same material used to make milk jugs, folding tables, and — to give it its due — ballistic armour plates. It’s an eco-friendly mobility solution, made for scooting around urban areas on belt-driven one-wheel-drive technology. You’ll soon be able to get one in countries around the world for the equivalent of about £9,000.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Varsovia, a super-luxury saloon, minimalistic in a way almost exactly opposite of Sam. Rather than plastic, the Varsovia is made of a biodegradable composite material, with odd rhomboid embossing on the exterior skin. Though a full-sized vehicle, it seats only one more passenger than the Sam, thanks to the removal of the front passenger seat to create luxurious lounging for half of the human cargo — and there’s a single, extra-wide gullwing door on that side. The interior contains no plastic, milk-jug or otherwise, and is instead made of wood, leather, aluminium, silver, and “mineral rocks,” with antiseptic and hydrophobic coatings, and each plane of the seats is equipped with its own system for heating, cooling, massage, and firmness. The car is made to sense the emotional state of the passengers by means of biometric sensors and a camera (which would so totally be detecting you rolling your eyes right now) so that ambient light and sound can be adjusted accordingly. There’s also a dual-screen mobile office with monitors that flip up into the headliner to become a virtual skylight, just in case the light in the actual sky is somehow substandard. Each Varsovia will be bespoke, so pricing has not been set, but we’d bet they’ll accept a down payment on one of the 50 per year they plan to produce beginning in 2018.
Though these siblings seem heartbreakingly estranged, there’s one notable family resemblance beyond a taste for top-hinged doors. Both cars are electric. Sam is wholly so, with a 100-mile range from the top-end 12kWh battery pack, which can charge to 40% in only one hour. The Varsovia is more of the high-performance hybrid variety — the company imagines a sub-5-second zero-to-60mph sprint — but is driven completely by electric power, using a petrol-fed internal-combustion engine as a generator, which brings its 270-mile (350km) range up to 520 miles (850km).
Poland's spot in the automotive landscape has historically been a none-too-esteemed one: The FSO Polonez, a rebodied Fiat 125p and the country's homegrown car brand, was universally reviled, described by the Telegraph as "one of the ugliest cars of all time." But in a period of increased global fascination with and consumer preference for electric vehicles, these two upcoming EVs could mark a well-timed ascent for a nation that already spends a lot of its manufaturing power churning out cars for consumers worldwide.
Plebian or patrician, whichever way the future takes Poland’s auto industry, the road will not be lined with petrol stations.
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