Relish this number: $22,191, that's Porsche's net profit per vehicle. No other carmaker in the world comes close to such amazing margins. Porsche, however, is ambitiously seeking even greater returns. It plans to do so despite increased costs, chiefly due to manpower (employment has increased from 12,000 to 18,000 in the last five years); infrastructure (the Weissach think tank is currently undergoing a major expansion); production (the factories at Leipzig and Zuffenhausen in particular need to be brought up to speed); marketing (Porsche experience centers are mushrooming globally); and distribution (Korea, Russia, and Brazil require instant attention).
Slow start for the 918
This fall, Porsche will roll out the mega-complex and mega-expensive, limited edition 918 Spyder. While the competing LaFerrari sold out instantly (and will be followed by a run of 500 drop-tops as well as by about 200 hardcore FXX variants in 2015 and 2016), the plug-in supercar from Stuttgart is still available for the taking. More to the point, the two-seater came in well above budget, and it tied more brainpower over a longer time period than originally allocated. In an attempt to recover some of that substantial investment, the board is currently evaluating various secondary exploitation options based around the carbon-fiber wonder.
918 spinoff: the 984
One promising potential spinoff that surfaced earlier this year is project 984: 9 for sports car, 8 for the number of cylinders, 4 for the number of seats. The 984 uses a stretched and reinforced version of the carbon fiber cradle of the 918; it keeps the same mid-mounted, dry-sump V-8, is rear-wheel drive only, but gains two seats and two doors. Sounds crazy? Perhaps. Except that in 2011 Lamborghini developed a similar (if stillborn) packaging scheme for the Aventador and the Gallardo, and then there is of course the upcoming BMW i8, which is a mid-engine 2+2.
Half the price of a 918
The 984 is a low-volume, high-price proposal, but its output would not be limited, and it would probably cost "only" 350,000 Euro, thereby undercutting the 918 by more than half. Chief designer Michael Mauer has created a stunning full-size concept car that is simply too beautiful to spend the rest of its life hidden under wraps. Styling elements include a 911-inspired greenhouse with a daringly low roofline, air intake scoops neatly integrated into the flared rear doors, and three body-color air extrusion bars between the rear window and the fixed wraparound tail spoiler. It is not yet clear whether the rear doors are front- or rear-hinged. There are two separate luggage compartments, one in the front and one in the rear.
It needs more power
Although Porsche is currently laying the finishing touches on an all-new lightweight twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8, the 984 would in all likelihood retain the more exclusive 4.6-liter dry-sump unit from the 918. Rather than 612 hp, as in the 918, the 984 would need even greater output, in order to eclipse the upcoming GT2 RS, which is going to deliver close to 650 hp. Figure, then, on 700 hp for the 984. A seven-speed PDK box is the transmission of choice to relay up to 443 pound-feet of torque to the 20-inch rear wheels. For optimum weight distribution, the radiators and the battery are mounted ahead of the front axle.
When and how many
Although production of the 918 is due to end in late 2015, the 984 would probably not be ready before 2017. Where to build it and in which numbers are part of an ongoing debate. Although the slow demand for the 918 does not bode well initially for the 2+2-seater derived from it, the situation might change if the 918 Spyder sells out soon after the first customer cars hit the road.
The 960 - Porsche's other supercar
Does the 984 clash with project 960? The answer is an emphatic No. While the 984 is all carbon fiber and very high-tech, the 960 paves the way for the next-generation 911 and Boxster. True, the 960 (known internally as Fefi for Ferrari fighter) will cost about 250,000 Euro and thus about as much as a Ferrari 458, but it would still be at least 100,000 Euro less expensive than the 984.
Powered by a boxer 8
Both models are equipped with eight-cylinder engines, but while the 984 would use a V-8, the 960 features a brand-new boxer, dubbed B8. Displacing approximately 5.0 liters, this direct-injected, twin-turbo powerplant would need at least 650 hp to fend off its Italian rival (which will switch from a normally aspirated V-8 to a turbocharged engine in 2015). Additionally, the 960 will have four-wheel drive, dynamic torque vectoring, and rear-wheel steering. The goal is to push the weight down to 3100 lbs and to accelerate in 2.5 seconds from 0-60 mph. Early calculations are based on about 3000 units a year, but there is capacity for almost twice that many, which means there is even potential for a 960 Spyder.
What's next for the 911
On the 911 front, the next big thing is the GT3 RS, which again features PDK as standard equipment. There is however a (slim?) chance that the Motorsport people might adapt the mothballed six-speed manual to the more powerful, naturally aspirated engine, if only as a very costly option for the true die-hards. In 2014, we are going to see the all-new 911 Targa, which drops the glass roof treatment and harks back to its roots with a removable lid that promises to be easy to stow. One 911 variant that might get squeezed out is the base GT2, simply because there's not enough time before the arrival of the next (992) Carrera. What we may see however is a limited edition GT2 RS with 650 hp, even more carbon fiber bits, bigger brakes, an uprated suspension, full-size wings and, again, PDK transmission.
Changes to Porsche's biggest seller
The Cayenne remains Porsche's biggest seller, and the third generation is expected to arrive in 2017. Again, based on the standard wheelbase (while the Audi Q7 and the Bentley Falcon go LWB), the new Cayenne is claimed to be more sports car-like, more contoured in shape, and more crossover than SUV in character than the current version. Additionally, a high-end coupe based on the Cayenne is a solid bet. Expected in 2018, the GTR edition (to rival the BMW X6 and friends) is tipped to feature an awesome top-of-the-line 4.0-liter V-8 rated at 600 hp and nearly 600 pound-feet of torque. Like all upcoming V engines under development, this one boasts a staggered variable-vane charging system, a variable-volume intake plenum, and a highly efficient variable-intensity combustion process.
Hold the Pajun
On the topic of unconventional Porsches, there is of course the Panamera. The next iteration debuts in 2015. It's claimed to be much prettier than the current effort, and it will come in three body styles: five-door, long-wheelbase five-door, five-door shooting brake. The proposed two-door variants are now out of the picture. In powertrain news, we are definitely going to see a V-8 diesel and the combination of diesel and 4WD. There is also talk of a performance hybrid that would mate a 500-hp V-8 to a 150-hp electric motor.
The Panamera Junior, a.k.a. the Pajun, was to be spun off the same front-engine platform (as is the follow up to the Bentley Continental). Described as a four-door hatchback coupe and a two-door shortback (928-style), the Pajun had been penciled in for 2017, but more recently the project moved back into "the cloud," which means it is no longer an active project. Porsche is grappling with questions of size, but also intra-familial rivalries -- particularly with Audi and Bentley. In other words, there are limits to growth, even for a company as ambitious as Porsche.