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.

Ah yes, Audi. The luxury brand is not exactly overjoyed by Porsche’s foray beyond sports cars. Top management there is adamant that Audi must retain full control over the A8 as well as the A9, a newly planned full-size coupe and convertible. Having said that, the new Porsche platform will be lighter and have much better weight distribution than the nose-heavy MLB platform on which Audi builds most of its current lineup. The brand might not be able to refuse superior Porsche parts when it comes time to replace the current A8 five or six years from now.

Has Porsche bitten off more than it can chew? Beyond the political war it might spark with Audi, the sheer volume of projects could destabilize an automaker that just a few years ago built only the 911, the Boxster/Cayman, and the Cayenne. But if Porsche can overcome these challenges and achieve its lofty engineering goals, it could bring huge rewards both for itself and for the Volkswagen Group.

Porsche’s full plate
Going forward, Porsche will offer up to eight distinct models on four architectures. It will also do the heavy lifting for several non-Porsche models. Here’s how it could come together:

Sports cars
2011: 911
2012: Boxster
2013: 918 Spyder, Cayman, Lamborghini Gallardo
2014: Audi R8
2015: 918 coupe
Tentative: Porsche 550, Audi R5, VW Bluesport (currently on hold)

Rear-wheel-drive sedans
2012: Long-wheelbase Panamera
2016: Panamera, Pajun, Bentley Continental, small Bentley sedan
2017: Pajun four-door coupe, small Bentley coupe
2018: Pajun convertible, small Bentley convertible
Tentative: Lamborghini

(Developed by Audi)
2013: Cajun (based on Q5)
2015: Cajun two-door
2017: Cayenne

“This job is definitely not only about fast cars. It is also about huge synergies and about a substantial return on investment. To meet our targets, we must fuse efforts in a way that protects the brands yet makes the bottom line shine.”
— Matthias Mueller, Porsche chairman