VW group chief speaks to Autocar about Porsche and much more
12 August 2009

The future of Porsche, according to one of its key decision makers, is expansion. VW Group chief Dr Martin Winterkorn, recently victorious in a boardroom battle for control of the famous sports car maker, believes the trajectory established by its previous chief Wendelin Wiedeking (who trebled production over 15 years) was correct and must continue. However, that still won’t make Porsches too common. During a brief visit to the UK, Winterkorn spoke exclusively to Autocar's Steve Cropley about Porsche and much, much more…

Can Porsche keep expanding as it has?

Why not? Look at Audi’s example. Ten years ago we had fewer than half the models we have now, yet everyone is pressing us to launch our baby A1. Look at Bentley. Its volume went from 2000 a year to 10,000, yet no one says the cars are common. It’s about making cars people want.

Can you imagine a Porsche annual volume of 150,000? That would mean more new models, wouldn’t it?

Why not? The strategy has worked well so far. Once the car market returns to normal, buyers for these cars will be there.

Any idea what the new models will be like?

Plenty, but it’s too early to talk about them. We have to make sure the Panamera gets a good start.

Aren’t you worried about Porsche exclusivity?

I really don’t believe it’s a problem. Porsche sells well in many markets where it was hardly represented a few years ago. Did you know 300 million people in China are to reach the economic threshold of car ownership? Only a fraction can afford a Porsche, but demand is rising fast.

How long will it be before the needs of China start to change European cars?

The markets are big enough to have their own models. In China we’ll sell Audis and VWs with the size, packaging and decoration customers require. But in Europe our cars will be European.

How big are you in China? And how long will it be before Chinese-made cars start threatening your own home sales?

We have six plants in China, and we make 1.3 million cars, about 20 per cent of total sales. The only chance I foresee for Chinese-made cars in Europe is if models produced with help from European manufacturers are imported. But there’s little sign of that yet. We’re the biggest, and our own contracts only apply to cars made exclusively for China.

Do you believe that the Chinese are aware of your brands’ values?

They know all about brands and their positioning. They read and research things very thoroughly. I’ve never seen as many Mont Blanc pens in my life as I’ve seen in China. This is why European prestige car brands can expect a good future in China.

Talking Audi, how do you respond to accusations that Audi styling is becoming predictable?

Wait until you see the new A8 late this year. That’s a progressive car, and the new look it introduces will flow on through the A7 and the A6, which are coming behind. Audi is a progressive brand, and we intend to prove it.

Is that the best way to introduce a new look, by bringing it to the most expensive models first?

We think it will work this time.

Several years ago, you nominated 2009-2010 as the years when car weights would start to fall. Do you still believe that?

I do, but reducing weight a lot, while controlling costs, is far from easy. We know we must find efficiencies and we look everywhere. One of the most fruitful areas right now is in the reduction of internal friction right through the car, the engine internals, the wheel bearings, the tyres. Big gains are coming.

Can you tell us a little about the cars you’ve been testing here in the UK?

They were all near-production versions of cars we will launch soon. This was a sign-off exercise. If we had found anything big, it would have meant our previous processes had failed.

Your group makes only one car in the UK, the Bentley. Did you drive the new Supersports, and how did you find it?

It was perfect…

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