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Kelley Blue Book: Want a faster car? Just download more horsepower

The Polestar 2 is a sporty electric 4-door with a lot to offer. Blending some of the best attributes of crossovers and hatchbacks, it has lots of living space in an uncluttered cabin with upscale, vegan materials. Ride quality is a bit firm, but that contributes to its sporting character in the turns. Dual-motor, all-wheel-drive versions are especially quick, with 408 total horsepower.

Unless you want more. At any time. Even long after the car has left the factory, you can just download some more.

Download performance from a website

Polestar — formerly a performance division of Volvo
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but now an automaker on its own two feet – is the latest company to experiment with a new type of car ownership.

Polestar 2 owners in Europe can now purchase additional speed for their car. The company says the system will be going world-wide in the near future, so American owners will get their chance.

Also see: Why is this modest car such a magnet for thieves?

To get the upgrade, owners simply log into the Polestar Extras web shop. From there, they can authorize the download and pay for it (currently, it costs €1,000 – about $1,128). Once the payment is authorized, the car automatically downloads a software update over the air.

The update adds about 67 horsepower and makes extra acceleration available in a band between about 40 and 80 mph. Polestar says it shaves a 10th of a second off the car’s 0-60 mph time, bringing it to 4.4 seconds.

“The upgrade highlights how connected technologies can transform the relationship a car company has with its customers,” says Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath. The Polestar 2 “is such a fun car to drive already, but with this upgrade, we can offer even more to our customers who might be after a little extra excitement,” he adds.

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Polestar is not the only company experimenting

Polestar isn’t the first automaker to experiment with charging customers to modify their cars with over-the-air updates.

It’s a concept other automakers have toyed with in recent years. In 2019, BMW experimented with offering Apple
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CarPlay for an annual fee – which meant shipping cars with the capability but turning it on only when customers paid for it. The company dropped the idea for the 2020 model year.

But Audi has run with it in Germany and Norway, where buyers of e-tron and e-tron Sportback electric vehicles (EVs) get upgraded Matrix LED headlights for a free trial period and then a monthly fee.

In a presentation to investors last year, Hyundai
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said it planned to offer “features on demand,” though it didn’t say when.

Volkswagen may be the automaker that has taken this idea the farthest. In March, the company announced a concept car called “Project Trinity.” A sporty EV, the Trinity would allow buyers to rent performance features – such as additional horsepower or all-wheel-drive – for small fees based on mileage or short-term rental periods.

Automakers betting on a big market

Polestar’s new download is a purchase, not a rental. Owners pay for the additional horsepower once and unlock it for the life of the car.

It’s also not cheap. The number of buyers able and willing to drop an additional four figures into their car to tease more performance out of it has always been small. It’s big enough to support an entire industry of aftermarket performance parts and tuner shops, but far smaller than the number of car owners overall.

Also read: The popular Ford Bronco Sport features a tiny, potentially industry-changing part that no other vehicle has

Yet automakers are betting that more people will be willing to download an upgrade than were willing to pay to have one installed at a shop.

According to Automotive News, Stellantis
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— the parent company of Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and several other brands – told investors this week it expects to make around $23 billion from “software-enabled product offerings and subscriptions” by 2030.

This story originally ran on KBB.com.

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