• Image Credit: Drew Phillips
Since Porsche isn't under the leadership of George W. Bush, the German luxury automaker is still a long way off from declaring Mission E-ccomplished (if you remember your turn-of-the-century history). The progress the company is making, though, is solid and gaining momentum, as we learned when we had the chance to speak with two Porsche executives at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Porsche board member for R&D, Michael Steiner, and Porsche Cars North America president and CEO, Klaus Zellmer, each chatted with us about the company's electrification strategy, which as these spy shots show, is burgeoning.

Will there ever be an electrified 911?

When we asked if there would ever be an electric Porsche 911 (we thought we knew the answer already), Steiner reminded us of the Porsche 911 GT3 Hybrid. You may recall back in 2010, Porsche developed the hybrid 911 prototype (which was freakin' awesome) for endurance racing. It wasn't a battery electric 911, but it demonstrated that it was on Porsche's radar, and it wasn't dismissed due to purity concerns.

But to answer our question, without giving an outright "No" for an answer, Steiner explained the various parts of the Porsche electrification strategy that essentially ruled it out.

Hybrid powertrains add weight to a vehicle. In a "performance-oriented car like the 911," Steiner said, weight is simply too critical. Hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains work for the Porsche Cayenne and Panamera, where the "power-to-weight ratio isn't as critical," and the benefit is greater.

Secondly, Mission E will, in a sense, fill the performance EV role soon enough. Though the first all-electric Porsche slots somewhere between the 911 and the Panamera, it fills the need for an electric sports car, but makes more sense business-wise, which leads us to ...

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The business case for Mission E

Sure, an electric 911 would be cool, but creating a new line of products under Mission E presents the opportunity to bring more customers to the brand, says Dr. Steiner.

"The Mission E is a new product line, and if you add a new product line that sits somewhere between the 911 and the Panamera, the potential to win additional customers is higher than if you add an additional drivetrain to an existing platform," he said. "A new product line always brings more customers to the brand."

Zellmer, who heads Porsche's North American business, thinks that Mission E will win over current Porsche owners, as secure new customers from other brands. He said, though, that to not have an EV ready by the end of the decade would mean "losing out on target groups and potentials." Zellmer added, "The average Porsche customer owns more than three cars, so adding another one to the car fleet, so to speak, is an option for us to in terms of potential." Which makes sense. Even if you are worried about driving range, it's easier to buy an EV if it's your second, third or fourth car, and you've got something else with a gas engine you can drive on longer trips.

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The challenges

Klaus Zellmer is clearly excited about the opportunities that Mission E provides to the brand, but admits that the company has its work cut out for it.

Porsche needs to "onboard" its dealers for the arrival of the Mission E, said Zellmer. With about 190 dealers in the U.S., there's a lot of work to do including building electric vehicle charging infrastructure at those dealership locations. Those chargers will be for the dealers to use, whether they're selling or servicing the Mission E, but also available to customers.

It goes far beyond that, though. "We have to work on our charging infrastructure [across] the nation, so that range anxiety — despite the fact that we have a bigger range than 300 miles — is not a barrier" to buying a Mission E, Zellmer said.

Steiner echoes this need for infrastructure to support the Mission E. Porsche has initiatives in the U.S. ("Electrify America") and Europe (no branding for that project yet) to build charging infrastructure. For Europe, Porsche will focus its 350-kW charging along the Autobahn, "where you need it. There is no need for super fast charging at home, because you have time overnight," and AC will be sufficient for the Mission E. "For long-distance driving," Steiner said, "we think the breakthrough will come with really short recharging time." Whether your range is 450 or 600 miles, you'll have to stop and charge at some point, and then, "all that counts is time."

Training the dealers is another piece of prep work that needs doing. "With battery technology, there are certain things you have to take into consideration when you work on those cars, or when you store the batteries, or exchange them," Zellmer said.

Customers pose their own set of challenges, as other automakers are well aware, and need their own training, in a sense. Klaus Zellmer, in the spirit of his intense focus on hospitality across the dealer network, says that Porsche "will offer customers a consultant to help them define the electric infrastructure they need in order to charge the car at home." That Porsche purchasing experience, especially when it comes to the Mission E, "has to be seamless. It has to be credible."

Despite those challenges, or perhaps in part because of them, Zellmer says, "In terms of milestones in the future of ­– from my point of view ­– of the battery electric vehicle, Mission E is the biggest one."

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Joining Formula E

For Porsche, racing is certainly in no small part about heritage, so it makes sense that it would want to bring its technology to a rapidly growing series. But, of course, representing the brand on the track in front of a global audience is about much more than thrills and pride.

For one, racing serves as a development tool for Porsche technology. Just as Porsche racing supported the hybrid product strategy with the Le Mans-winning 919 or the Nürburgring-dominating 918 Spyder, Formula E serves a development laboratory and proving grounds for Porsche's electric powertrain technology. For electric racing, said Steiner, "The only competitive series we were able to find is Formula E, and during several discussions we had with [Formula E CEO Alejandro] Agag and his people, we got the impression that the technical freedom we will have year by year in Formula E will give us some additional freedom to prove our technology in racing."

Second, Formula E helps build brand awareness and fan engagement. Steiner told us that one benefit to Formula E is the different set of fans that come to the races. Formula E tends to attract more families and young people than traditional racing. "Besides being downtown, [Formula E] seems also to attract different people. There are more families, more younger people seen at Formula E races than we see at conventional, traditional racing."

Formula E lines up with the "megatrends" of urbanization and connectivity. As for the first trend, we've already seen how important the urban customer is to the EV manufacturer. With most ePrix races on public streets in the center of major cities, it's putting the technology directly in front of a prime target EV market, whether you're Porsche, Renault, or Faraday Future.

Connectivity is important to almost any automaker looking to the future, and that's certainly the case with Porsche and Mission E. Formula E sees a high amount of connectivity, most readily exemplified by Fan Boost. In Formula E, fans can vote for their favorite driver to get a power boost once during each race. This close, digitalized engagement translates to the product side, especially when it comes to electric vehicles.

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Beyond Mission E

Mission E will definitely not be the last Porsche EV. "There will be more fully electric vehicles in the future," promised Steiner, and more hybrid vehicles.

The next step will be an all-electric vehicle based on the shared "PPE" platform with Audi. Despite the shared development, both brands will have their own vehicles, and Porsche's will be "typically Porsche."

So more Porsche EVs are a sure thing, just the timeline beyond Mission E and the PPE car is unclear. "What we don't know for sure is how fast customers will move, but we see already really promising shifts in terms of plug-in hybrid vehicles." The factors that determine the launch of EVs are A) what is possible in terms of technology (which for Porsche is defined in large part by power-to-weight ratio and sportiness), B) customer expectations, and C) the regulatory guidelines in the various global markets.

What you're not likely to see from Porsche, regardless of market trends, is an electric city car. "This is not close to the core of our brand," Steiner said.

Final thoughts

What will set the Mission E apart from other EVs out there in this ever-growing field? Zellmer's answer: "I think you're going to truly feel the Porsche-ness in that car." When you compare a Cayenne or Macan to other SUVs, or a Panamera to other luxury sedans, "it's got a different soul. So that Porsche soul is something that we need to provide with the Mission E," said Zellmer. "And we are going to do so."

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