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.

In an era of mega car companies, the story of how the 918 came to be was really refreshing.

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.

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.
Porsche 918 SpyderPorsche 918 Spyder

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.

Apparently the design team is currently hard at work on the next generation of the Porsche 911.

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.

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...


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  • 13 Comments
      purrpullberra
      • 10 Months Ago
      Great story! I am enamored with the 918 hybrid so this bit of info is wonderful to hear. I'm curious if the doors of the production vehicle have the same features of the concept. I've never seen such attention to detail in the area you see when the door is wide open even in Rolls's. The way each ridge recapitulated the exact same lines as every other one. It was just one feature of 20 or so that were virtually perfect. It's extraordinary. I hope I get to experience one someday!
      ken
      • 10 Months Ago
      The new 911 is too good that is bad for 911 lovers. The handling is too balance, no more heavy tail; steering is too light and you can't feel the weight transfer as before; the cabin is too quiet, no more boxster humming; there are too many buttons and features and the gearbox has too many gears but not enough mechanical clicks. It may be quicker, but it is not 911 anymore.
        Victor Hoyles
        • 10 Months Ago
        @ken
        And you just typed your comment on an automobile fan forum via some sort of computer aid. Instead you could have used a pen to write it all down and mailed it out to Autoblog with the hopes they would publish it. Get with the times!
      johnnythemoney
      • 10 Months Ago
      No flights of fancy, yet you really believe a car designed by 5 designers (not engineers or technicians) is something real? I bet the 50 engineers or more (probably many more) that actually made the real 918 work are those we should really thank for the 918. Sure, the car looks the way it does (I'll admit it looks quite good too) because of this 5 people, but without the real designers, the engineers and the technicians there would be no 918, but just a flight of fancy.
        Muttons
        • 10 Months Ago
        @johnnythemoney
        And without the "real" designers, the engineers and technicians would produce a very functional blob of components. The Ultimate Aero SC was the fastest car in the world for a time. Faster than hell. Know why no one cared? Because it looked like it too.
          johnnythemoney
          • 10 Months Ago
          @Muttons
          And you think there were many engineers behind the SSC Aero? I'm sure there were some, but they were definitely not the "best and brightest" out there if they made something that unappealing. I'm not saying designers aren't part of the deal, they are indeed a part. You should read a quick story from Gordon Murray on the development of the Bugatti Veyron to figure what a designer can do and what he shouldn't do, otherwise engineers and the likes can't simply do their job, which is to make stuff work. This is not the text I had in mind but the content is similar: http://www.automotiveforums.com/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=488344 What was the coolest part of the Mazda Furai? Its look, or the fact that it could actually be driven on a race track at decent pace?
        Echelon Bob
        • 10 Months Ago
        @johnnythemoney
        Johnny, you're spot-on. Designers or "creatives" get way too much credit these days. It's amazing the automotive world tracks their comings and goings as if they were rock stars. It seems to me more often than not the designers screw up well-engineered cars by over-designing and (to paraphrase Colin Chapman) "adding fakeness." The "creatives" forget that engineering is one of the most creative activities there is. Often the truest beauty emerges naturally when form follows function.
      Orson
      • 10 Months Ago
      Please Porsche engineers...a completely re-designed 911 needs to return to being a simple 993 size sports car, no more porky GT dimensions!
        juststudent
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Orson
        Time has changed and that's the reason they introduce Cayman.
      mustang_sallad
      • 10 Months Ago
      911 needs a Hybrid option alongside Turbo...
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