The night before Porsche handed me the keys to its 2015 Macan to drive on both road and track, the company threw together a great dinner for the assembled media in Leipzig. Hosted in Porsche's spaceship-shaped customer delivery center in the eastern German town, I'll admit that I spent the bulk of my night grabbing hors d'oeuvres from passing waiters (they do a nice tuna sashimi), milling around a collection of historic and interesting vehicles on the top floor and gulping down Warsteiner.
Before the evening was over, however, Porsche design chief Michael Mauer stopped by my table to exchange pleasantries and thank us all for coming out to drive the Macan. My fellow diners and I passed a pleasant half-hour or more picking the brain of the forthcoming Mauer, and somehow or another, the topic turned to Porsche's newest supercar, the 918 Spyder. In an era of mega car companies (the Volkswagen Group included) and massive development teams, the story of how the 918 came to be is really refreshing.
In an era of mega car companies, the story of how the 918 came to be was really refreshing.
Porsche has a series of mandates around nearly every concept car that it builds – constraints that other, larger companies might rarely have to deal with. Mauer told me that concepts out of his department must be fairly close to production-readiness (no "flights of fancy" with nothing under the hood), and must be executed by small teams on tight time budgets.
All of that was true and in play for Geneva 2010, when Porsche first showed the 918 Spyder concept car that, frankly, blew all of us away. Little did we realize, the car was the product of just a five-man design team. What's more, the same five people were also responsible for the final design of the actual production vehicle.
That last bit shocked me a little, but Mauer said that the design process for the consumer 918 Spyder was actually one of the most streamlined of his career. Why? Apparently Porsche executives were so taken with the look of the concept car, and so inundated by public praise for it, that their one mandate to Mauer was that the production version should not stray at all from the concept. This meant that in the face of challenges from the engineering team, Mauer was able to raise his hands and say, "Sorry guys." He had clear marching orders. See the concept car (left) and the production car (right) in the images above.
Undoubtedly, the fact that the 918 concept (with its remarkable hybrid powertrain) was a running vehicle, helped speed the decision to go forward with production, too. Though Mauer says that the car's "runner" status was cast in doubt the night before it made its public debut. Set to drive onstage, Mauer says that the 918 concept completely shut down about 15 minutes before its curtain call at the VW Group Night program that precedes the full show. (He didn't use the words, but the sound Mauer used to describe that which the car made reminded me instantly of a very famous scene from Star Wars.) Technicians were hustled in, curses were uttered, oaths were sworn, and the 918 made its time slot.
Apparently the design team is currently hard at work on the next generation of the Porsche 911.
Moving away from the tales of the 918 for just a moment, Herr Mauer also gave me a piece of gossip that, while not completely unsuspected, was something that I haven't yet heard reported. Apparently the design team is already hard at work on a next generation Porsche 911, and it's "not another facelift." Mauer would divulge any details, except to say that the process for choosing a new 911 design isn't as carefree as that which he'd described for the 918.
It seems that when one is pitching three new possible design directions for the next iteration of the legendary sports car, every person in the room, including those with "Porsche" as their last names, feel like they've got an ownership stake. And you've all wondered why 911 styling was so evolutionary...