Deep Dive: Porsche in the Driver's Seat

It couldn't have looked much worse for Porsche in 2009. The hare-brained scheme to buy out the Volkswagen Group -- intended to safeguard Porsche's independence -- had blown up spectacularly, leaving the proud sports car builder broke and at the mercy of corporate overlords in Wolfsburg. VW added insult to injury in 2010 when it sent over Matthias Mueller, a career Audi man, to serve as Porsche chairman.

But things aren't always what they seem. Porsche will no doubt be integrated into the larger company and, like all VW brands, has a lofty sales target -- 150,000 units in 2013, after selling 95,000 vehicles in 2010. But under the direction of Mueller, who knows the VW Group inside out and is one of the industry's most talented networkers, Porsche will be in the driver's seat. Porsche has not only secured control of both its own and other brands' sports cars, but it has also taken the lead in developing several luxury sedans.

The key is rear-wheel drive. For all its resources, Volkswagen at present lacks rear-wheel-drive platforms for both the affordable sports cars it has long wanted and for premium sedans. Porsche already has the basis for the first architecture in the all-new Boxster/911. At the same time, it's cooking up a new components set, dubbed MSB, for the next Panamera and the smaller four-door "Pajun" ("Panamera Junior," illustrated to the right). Porsche engineers promise best-in-class weight and structural rigidity for MSB and will likely mount the engine behind the front axle to provide excellent weight distribution. Although the cars will be primarily rear-wheel drive, Porsche is studying the Ferrari FF's innovative transaxle design for all-wheel-drive variants. New engines, including a beastly 4.8-liter V-8 good for some 600 hp, are also part of the plan.

If all this sounds mighty tempting, know that Bentley and Lamborghini executives feel the same way. In addition to serving as the basis for the next Continental (currently based on the Audi A8) and Mulsanne, the Porsche architecture could also be the perfect home for the mid-size sedan that Bentley has been trying to build for several years. Lamborghini, for its part, still pines for a production version of the beautiful four-door Estoque that it showed at the 2008 Paris auto show, along with a grand touring coupe and convertible. However, the Italians might have some trouble aligning with Porsche since they still answer to management at Audi.

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