2013 Detroit: Porsche R&D Chief Talks 918, Confirms Manuals Could Be On Way Out

Porsche was busy showcasing its updated Cayenne Turbo S at the 2013 Detroit show, but we did have a brief conversation with Dr. Wolfgang Hatz, Porsche’s board member in charge of research and development.

918 Spyder: Some 25 prototypes are already running across the globe – we even had a chance to ride in one – but Hatz says the next step is to finalize the vehicle; to buff and polish it in order to be ready for primetime.

“Development is at a good stage, but now we have to make the car perfect. On a performance side, we are at a very good level, but now we have to make it a perfect car, which means we have to optimize NVH tuning and things like that. We will begin building the first pre-production car with production tools/ tooling very soon, and should be [in production] by the end of the year.

“We’ve had quite a bit to do since there is no component presently found on a production Porsche car. We have to orchestrate not only the powertrain, but the chassis, the suspension, the electronic system – even the HMI is new. The powertrain itself is quite complex – we really have three torque sources in the car. Juggling them is not easy, and the strategy has to be if you switch on the combustion engine, it has to be smooth – but quick, because this is a super sports car.”

Will the 918 contribute to Porsche’s upcoming return to Le Mans prototype racing? Perhaps. “Let’s say it like this,” Hatz offers. “We’ve learned a lot from 918, and also on the Le Mans project, we need to have a very powerful hybrid system on the car. It’s a requirement for 2014. We will certainly send some [engineers] from the 918 project to the LMP project.”

On Other Porsche Hybrids: Although the 918’s driveline was developed in-house, drivetrains found in Panamera and Cayenne hybrids are shared with corporate sibling Audi. This won’t change, despite Porsche’s new hybrid know-how. “We have nothing against synergies,” Hatz says, “although I must say we managed to develop the [Audi-based] system quite further.” Hatz also believes Porsche is ahead of the remainder of the VW group pack when it comes to plug-in hybrids – not only will the 918 launch by the end of 2013, but another plug-in model – a Panamera – before the Spyder comes to market.

Life Beyond Six Cylinders: Given other competitors continue to increase horsepower, will Porsche’s six-cylinder engines in its sports cars provide enough output to remain competitive? “Performance is the number one reason our customers buy a Porsche,” Hatz says, “but what’s performance? Is it a pure horsepower figure? For us, it’s more than that. [Performance] has to include power-to-weight ratio; has to be performance on a circuit, and so on.”

“Certainly, we need to increase the performance of our six-cylinder engine. I think it can still handle that for the time being, but maybe in the future, if we expand our range even higher, perhaps we need something with more than six cylinders.”

Conversely, Hatz says Porsche “may even need something with less than six cylinders,” given increasingly strict fuel economy and emission standards. A small-displacement, turbocharged engine with direct injection, perhaps? “I think in the future we have to at least keep that possibility open,” says Hatz.

Death of A Manual? 911 Project manager Michael Schätzle sparked some controversy last year when he suggested the manual transmission could be eliminated from Porsche’s model range by 2020 – but does Porsche’s engineering boss agree? “The take rate is going down, down, down,” notes Hatz. “Even with Boxster, we’re selling nearly 80 percent with the PDK (dual-clutch gearbox).But there are markets – the U.S., for example; they love manuals. We presently have our seven-speed manual, and perhaps in the next few years for sure, we’ll have a manual. I don’t know if that will last forever, but for the next ten years, for sure, we’ll still have manuals.”

There’s some good news for PDK lovers: expect an improved version of Porsche’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. “There’s more to come. This year, we will show off a PDK that is more into the direction I would like to ultimately have it.” Does that mean faster shift times? “Yes, much faster,” Hatz replies.

Stop Asking About A Baby Boxster: Although there’s some scuttlebutt that Audi may once again be looking at a mid-engine sports car to slot in beneath the R8, Porsche maintains it won’t join in on the project. “No, we’ve discussed this often, but presently we have to say our priority is not to expand [our sports car lineup] below the Boxster/Cayman. I think in some years, perhaps, we’ll rethink this; you never know. But at the moment, we have to say ‘okay, Boxster and Cayman; those are our base line of sports cars.’” Hatz thinks at this time, we’re more likely to see a Boxster/Cayman variant with a smaller engine than we are a sub-Boxster model range.

Model launches just around the corner include the smaller Macan crossover, which is due by the end of the year, and an updated Panamera, which should appear sometime in the second or third quarter of 2013. Speaking of Panamera, Hatz says reception of the sexy Panamera Sports Turismo has been “mind-blowing,” and that “[Porsche has] a good chance” of adding it to the next Panamera range.

Photo credit: Gabrielle George

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