Meet the car industry exec who can't even drive
And find out why that's just fine...
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In a clean, modern office in Amsterdam, Robin van der Kaa cuts a relaxed figure. A global pandemic rages outside, but the man who heads up the marketing department at new mobility firm Lynk & Co is unerringly cool. Rolled sleeves reveal tattoos, while an easy smile is ever-present behind a thick beard. I trawl the archives of my mind, desperately seeking a similar automotive executive, but I draw a blank. No results found. But it isn’t just the look or the attitude that sets van der Kaa apart. Despite his name and his chosen career, he can’t drive.
“I hadn’t really considered it much until I started working at Lynk & Co, but it’s become a running joke,” he laughs. “I grew up in a village outside Rotterdam, but I moved to the city centre at 17, when I couldn’t get a licence. The public transport system in the Netherlands is great, and if I couldn’t get somewhere on public transport I would take a bike or a cab. I didn’t need to get a driver’s licence and I continued to live in big cities, so I kept thinking ‘Why do it now?’. Then I thought maybe I should just wait until cars are self-driving.”
It’s clear van der Kaa is at ease in his own skin. Not only is he unfazed by his inability to drive, but he sees it as a positive, giving him a perspective that can differ enormously from those of his colleagues and peers.
“The great thing about Lynk & Co is that we really do try to do things differently,” he said. “The car industry is fairly conservative, so they were specifically looking for a fresh pair of eyes. I learned a lot, but things are taken for granted, and I was like ‘Why are you doing this?’ and they said, 'That’s the way it goes'.
"I said, ‘Yes, but that’s not really a valid reason’. I think people wondered whether I knew what I was talking about, but it allows me to connect with the general public. It’s such an engineer-driven industry that it tends to get stuck talking to people who already know everything.”
Trying something different
Robin van der Kaa's lack of driving experience makes him the perfect man to bring a new approach to car usage
And those fresh eyes matter at Lynk & Co’s Gothenburg HQ. Unlike most other car makers, the company doesn’t just offer customers a car – in this case the 01 SUV – but a whole new way of driving. Instead of stumbling into the nearest dealer and being beaten with a stick of solid jargon until you sign over your life savings for the latest sports car, Lynk & Co offers membership-based mobility and month-to-month membership, allowing an all-inclusive ‘usership’ package that can be held by one or multiple people.
“I think the 01 is a beautiful feat of engineering and design, and we’re proud of it, but I don’t feel we’re marketing cars; we’re marketing a mobility solution," said van der Kaa. "We saw the need for people to get from A to B safely, but they don’t necessarily care how. They just want a convenient solution, and I think we can offer that with a car. It’s flexible and everything is included – if the car breaks down, we fix it – and cars stand still for 96% of the time in cities, so car sharing will make cities more livable and more sustainable. It’s a mindset change, for sure, but I sincerely believe car ownership is slowly disappearing, and I’m convinced the set-up we have is the solution.”
The Lynk & Co 01 – we love the blue wheels
It’s a solution that’s set up to work regardless of the technology in the car. At present, the 01 is one of the most advanced cars on the road that shares much with sister firm Volvo’s XC40, but in the future, van der Kaa says Lynk & Co’s set-up could work just as easily with driverless pods. So will he bother getting his driving licence? Somewhat sheepishly, he admits he’s already bought the books to study for his driving test.
“Now I’ve finally taken the first steps to get a licence,” he says. “Well, I got my theory and practice book, but I’m very busy at the moment, so it’s still in plastic and in my cupboard. It’s a little bit higher on the agenda than it used to be right now. I would love to drive the 01 when it comes.”