It may be that all’s well that ends well, but at this point, it is difficult to predict what shape the end will assume. The “end,” in this case, is the point in time when the reorganization of the VW group’s luxury and sports car division, as masterminded by Porsche, is complete and fully functional.
The plan is for Porsche to coordinate the future activities (and to control the flow of revenues) of Lamborghini, Bentley, and Bugatti. The marques will share architectures and componentry, and pool their efforts to address essential challenges like electrification, digitalization, and autonomous driving.
In the wake of this major strategic revision, Porsche has announced that it intends to cut costs at a rate of $2.3 billion per year until 2022. The money saved will be instantly reinvested in new technologies most of which happen to have a low return on investment. The key efficiency gains will be had in improvements to research and development, procurement, and production.
OLD TROOPERS AND THE NEW GUARD FIGHT IT OUT
The premium brands are run by Bram Schot (who replaced Rupert Stadler at Audi), Oliver Blume (Porsche), Adrian Hallmark (who took over from Wolfgang Dürheimer at Bentley) and Stephan Winkelmann (Bugatti).
The dark horse on the management carousel is Peter Duesmann who will join VW when his retention period expires in summer 2020. The ex-BMW top manager has three options: he could replace a potentially underperforming Bram Schot at Audi, he could become COO of the VW group, or he could step in for Oliver Blume at Porsche.
As always, the strings are going to be pulled by the supervisory board, which is controlled by the Porsche and Piech families. In a rare show of agreement, they want to promote Porsche chairman Blume to the board of the VW group. Blume’s successor may be Duesmann, who has a strong motorsport track record and is a dyed-in-the-wool car guy. Schot is said to be safe in his position at Audi at the moment, but he must get the brand back in shape—or the board will find a new number one.
HOW NOT TO HANDLE A LUXURY BRAND
From Wolfsburg’s vantage point, Audi is a potential future casualty—not least because of Dieselgate—but right now the biggest problem child is Bentley. According to a German business weekly, the Bentley boys are currently losing nearly $20,000 on every vehicle sold. In the first half of 2018, losses amounted to more than $90 million as sales fell by 15 percent. If Adrian Hallmark increases the marque’s annual output from about 10,500 to 15,000 units, he would likely only repeat the mistakes made by every Bentley boss since the departure of Franz-Josef Paefgen. Volume is a blessing and a curse for every luxury brand. Flooding the dealers with hard-to-sell stock, counter-productive rapid-succession facelifts, embarrassing design issues (Bentayga, Mulsanne), and a total lack of low-emissions engines, hybrids, or electric vehicles is bound to stifle demand, ruin resale values, and put an emphasis on the “olde” in Bentley’s olde worlde brand image. The fact that Audi is not getting its act together in terms of Crewe-bound future-emissions-ready engines only adds insult to injury.
BUGATTI IS BACK ON TRACK—WITH A VENGEANCE
Perhaps messieurs Winterkorn, Müller, or Diess should have put Stephan Winkelmann in charge of the Bentley, Bugatti, and Lamborghini triplets, and made Oliver Blume run the Audi & Porsche Show.
Winkelmann is feared for his crackdown management style, the ruthless pursuit of a chosen target, and his egocentric personality. But let´s face it: Lamborghini owes what it is today to the fit and fashion-conscious tri-lingual Berlin-born jack-of-all-trades. Although his interregnum at Audi Sport lasted only a year, he kicked off three projects that may put the rudderless appendix back on track. At Bugatti, he stepped in for Wolfgang Dürheimer whose legacy was the amazing Chiron. Instead of leaning back and watching 70 cars a year leave les ateliers in Molsheim, Winkelmann once again switched to attack mode. The Divo, to be built by Italdesign, was his first attention-grabbing product, and there will be more.
Insiders are expecting a limited run of aerodynamically advanced lightweight Superleggeras, an even more track-oriented Chiron SS, and a completely re-skinned targa-top Chiron Aperta. In addition, Bugatti is reportedly pondering an all-electric high-end model, which may materialize in cooperation with Porsche, Rimac, and Dallara.
A DARK HORSE BY THE NAME OF LAMBORGHINI
Rumor has it that Lamborghini will soon be transferred from Audi ownership to the luxury and sport division masterminded by Porsche. The ambitious completion date is Jan 1, 2019. If the tall legal hurdles posed by Italian corporate law can be overcome, Ducati Enterprises would be the new holding company representing the group’s remaining interests in Italy. Stefano Domenicali who used to run Ferrari’s F1 team, remains Lamborghini chairman with Maurizio Reggiani as his CTO. The revised game plan caught Audi and Lamborghini with surprise—and at a critical point in time for the Raging Bull’s future product portfolio.
You see, the Italians had hoped to complete the Aventador and Huracán replacements before the Zuffenhausen bean counters could intervene. Since both models were to share their monofuselage carbon fiber architecture, the ragazzi from Sant’Agata would have been all but untouchable by Porsche’s synergy-creating aspirations for the next ten years. Will that happen? Possibly.
Although the next-generation Aventador has been pushed back to 2022, the project is thought to be too far down the road to be revoked. It’s a wild-looking thing, overtly aggressive and expressively stylish, a badass wedge adorned with plenty of trademark Y symbols. The modular monofuselage can be divided in three elements: the front axle driven by two electric motors, the backbone center section that houses the batteries, and the drivetrain assembly comprising V-12 engine, new dual-clutch Getrag transmission, third e-motor, and rear suspension.
Still normally aspirated, the modified V-12 will be good for around 770 hp. Add 300 kW (402 hp) of electric power, and you’re looking at nearly 1,200 hp without pulling out all the stops. Since there is no way this monster machine DNA can be integrated in a rival VW group architecture, the flagship will almost certainly proceed as planned.
A similar carbon fiber layout is in the works for the next Huracán, which also remains faithful to its non-turbo engine. The upgraded 5.2-liter V-10 is said to be good for 650 hp. Thanks to a 250 kW (335 hp) electric power boost, Lamborghini’s AWD bestseller should be able to keep up with the Ferrari 488.
It will, however, be important to come to grips with the weight penalty caused by energy cells, motors, and performance electronics. In addition, the monofuselage hardware is still way over budget, and there are no obvious scale effects with respect to Audi and Porsche.
So what to do? Right now, the decision makers are looking at two alternatives. Option one is to keep Huracán in lock-step with the R8, but this approach works only if Audi actually wants a new R8, and if this R8 comes with a watertight business case. Option two is to create a new aluminum-intensive modular multi-brand sports car architecture to open up a broader scope of opportunities. The latter route may be the most likely.
ADVANCED GERMAN ENGINEERING AT A CROSSROADS
Internally known as Mimo II, this electrified lightweight structure would be developed by Porsche for the repeatedly delayed Ferrari 488 fighter known as the 960. The same Mimo II architecture could also see use in the future Huracán and the R8 replacement, with expectations of a 650-hp V-8 PHEV powertrain. Electrification is the catchword here. You see, Mimo II is flexible enough to cater for ICE, HEV, PHEV, and BEV applications.
To keep complexity at bay, we hear that the J1 platform prepared for the Porsche Taycan will, for cost reasons, remain a one-off, which is another way of saying that it and any successor are all but dead for group use. The rumored SPAZ and SPE future architectures may share a similar fate, since the research and development wizards reckon that the existing MMB/MHB platforms can be electrified at relatively little expense. In essence, this would leave the group with three premium components sets: PPE/PPC for larger cars and SUVs; Monofuselage or Mimo for high-performance sports cars; and MMB/MHB evo for Cayman and 911.
Audi may replace the R8 with one of three options, including an all-electric PB18-inspired car, a Huracán II derivative, or a Mimo II-based sports car, but since no decision has been made, we’re not going to see anything in the flesh before 2022.
Alternatively, the R8 could simply go away. An intriguing, equally unconfirmed alternative is the recreation of the iconic Ur-Quattro, which could be a synthesis of the many show cars Audi has devoted to this theme. Another possibility is said to be a limited-edition supercar described as a TT RS on steroids. Radically aggressive in appearance and fitted with a 500-hp-plus five-cylinder turbo engine, this 2+2-seater may indeed have what it takes to replace the R8.
Yet another alternative is an ultra-lightweight high-performance two-seater halo car, assembled by a coachbuilder at no more than 500 units in total—think super-R8. Last but not least, there is the striking zero-emission 400-kW (536 hp) Audi e-tron GT shooting brake, which shares its genetic material with the Porsche Taycan and the Bentley Barnato—though remember our previous caveat about the viability of the J1 architecture.
Lamborghini will add an Urus plug-in hybrid in 2020 and facelift the Urus in 2022. There will be no Urus coupé, but we do expect an Urus Performante range-topper.
What about a fourth model range? Not in the foreseeable future. The closest thing to a fourth Lambo was the 2008 Estoque, which ticked all the boxes when there was still a market for ultra-high-performance saloons.
If Lamborghini ever does extend its line-up, it will probably by a potent four-seater, two-door, Espada-style luxury GT based on the upcoming PPE/PPC platform. Beyond that, the folks in Sant’Agata are still keen on extreme one-offs like Egoista and Terzo Millenio; exclusive, tailor-made editions of no more than 20 units such as Veneno and Sesto Elemento; and limited-edition hypercars like the Aventador SVJ. Currently in the works are said to be a Paris-Dakar Huracán and a de-contented rear-wheel drive Aventador Ultima.
Porsche is about to release the next 911, dubbed 992. Originally, this was meant to be the final iteration of the MHB toolkit, but since the 992 architecture can accommodate PHEV componentry, we would not be surprised to see it live on in modified form. While the 992 retains the classic rear-engine layout, the still-pending 960 would be a mid-engine coupé featuring a six-cylinder boxer and a 200-kW (268-hp) electric front-wheel drive system.
Although Porsche has allegedly signed off the Boxster/Cayman replacement (codenamed 983), it’s another low-margin project because the segment is in free fall. We hear that 983 is package-protected for a straight-five engine in case Audi feels like replacing the TT with a proper sports car.
Rumor also has it that Porsche is investigating an all-electric sports car scenario. Derived from the MMB components set, there is talk of a neo-Cayman E (two motors good for 400 hp, 100-kWh battery) and a neo-919 E (three motors rated at 600 hp, 125 kWh battery).
IN HINDSIGHT, YOU ARE NOT ALWAYS WISER
While Porsche’s return on investment is second only to Ferrari, Audi is seriously overstaffed and worryingly over budget. Would it not have made more sense to put Audi and Porsche together in one cooperative group, while creating a separate, partly autonomous subdivision for Bentley, Bugatti, and Lamborghini?
Audi and Porsche are the biggest earners within the VW group, and already share heavily in terms of technology and development. In a nutshell, Audi needs Porsche more than Porsche needs Audi, but they still both need each other.