Porsche, Volkswagen, and Audi Clash Over Small Sports Cars

Could internal politics endanger the Volkswagen Group’s trio of mid-engine compact sports cars — the Porsche 356, the Audi R5, and the VW BlueSport? VW launched the mid-engine BlueSport concept at the 2009 Detroit auto show. The car was a runner, the engineers had done much more than their routine homework, and, in principle, marketing had given it a thumbs-up. Almost eighteen months later, however, the two-seater is still on hold.

Where is the problem? As usual, it lies elsewhere — in Zuffenhausen and Ingolstadt, to be precise. Porsche doesn’t want the next-generation Boxster to be cannibalized by a less expensive and potentially more capable 356. Audi, facing slow demand for the R8, doesn’t see the need for a third sports car to be positioned between the next TT and its mid-engine flagship. Although VW is quick to admit that the BlueSport would work wonders for its image, the brand has its plate full coordinating the cooperation deal with Suzuki, preparing the next Golf, and getting the so-called New Small Family under way. “Sports cars are not at the top of our priority list,” states chairman Martin Winterkorn. “This applies in particular to sports cars that require the collaboration of Porsche, which is not even part of the VW Group yet.”

At Porsche, Not Invented Here syndrome is also a major issue. Porsche will almost certainly lose the development of the next Cayenne to Audi. The Cayenne’s still-nameless, Q5-based little brother will also be conceived by the friendly enemy from Ingolstadt. If it were to base the 356 off VW’s BlueSport, Porsche would lose its third project in a row.

“The VW Group needs a modular sports car structure to stretch from the entry-level segment to the 911 or even beyond. And the only brand that can credibly conceive such a structure is Porsche,” says one source in Zuffenhausen.

Rather than quell this burgeoning sibling rivalry, VW chief Ferdinand Piech is in fact encouraging Audi to pitch a new platform of its own against Porsche’s. He’s done this before — the apparent intent is to motivate both groups and generate additional ideas. In the end, however, the project will likely land under the Porsche umbrella.

Although the platform for this mid-engine trio remains somewhat up in the air, we can speculate on how each will evolve. Porsche will likely insist on a flat four in a coupe and a roadster, but Audi could probably live with an R8- inspired derivative powered by the blown 2.5-liter five-cylinder in the TT RS. VW could then come out with a minimalistic droptop equipped with the “twincharged” (supercharged and turbocharged) 1.4-liter engine from Europe’s Polo GTI. More fanciful ideas include a targa, a speedster, a turbocharged GT4, and a lightweight Clubsport for Porsche in addition to an E-tron with electric four-wheel drive, a solar-panel roof, and adjustable sideblades for Audi. Wishful thinking? We’ll know more late next year when the integration of Porsche is complete.