The creator of the Panamera’s bold new look discusses the car's development and the future of Porsche design
Matt Burt
29 June 2016

After working for Mercedes-Benz, Smart and Saab, Michael Mauer’s first job after joining Porsche was to design the first-generation Panamera.

Now head of style at Porsche, he has overseen the creation of the second iteration of Panamera, unveiled yesterday. He explains how it came into being.

When you started to develop the new Porsche Panamera, did you consider a more radical change of design from that of the first car?

“A very intensive discussion when we came to develop the first generation of Panamera was whether we should do it – should we go with this combination of a coupé centreline and four-seat capability? For this new generation we discussed whether we should stick to it, even though it was criticised by some. We decided that we should, but there is always room for improvement. I am very happy with the result – it is still a typical Panamera but from my point of view it is improved.”

How much did customer feedback influence the design?

“We always listen to customer feedback but we knew from the very beginning that we had room for improvement. There were some harsh comparisons of the first car, especially the roofline, which came in for criticism.”

Full specs and prices for the 2016 Porsche Panamera here

The new Porsche Panamera borrows its rear ‘light band’ design from various iterations of the Porsche 911. Was it an intentional decision to align it with your sports car?

“Our philosophy is to always try to introduce new design cues on our new cars. The first job of these design cues is to create a product identity; we always want to give each and every car its own character.

“Then we discuss if some elements will stay as a product identity feature or if they will be lifted to the next level and become a brand identity. The light band is a very old feature from the 911, but to start with it did not have a function, it was just a band. Then on the all-wheel-drive version of the 911 we used it in combination with the lights to create a very strong feature at night.

“We decided that it was such a strong theme that we should take it to the next level and let it become Porsche brand identity. But even though it is now a theme, each and every new model will have its own little variation based on this theme to create product identity on top of this again.”

How much of a challenge is it to keep evolving a brand like Porsche?

“If you have a weak brand or even a brand doesn’t exist, you can just start from a clean sheet of paper and create a brand identity. You have all the freedom you can imagine but you don’t have any orientation.

“On the other hand, talking about Porsche, you have all this history, you have strong cars like the 911, so you have a lot of orientation, maybe sometimes too much – sometimes it is restricting. For me, I love both sides, but I like the fact that in Porsche we have this kind of evolutionary approach. I think we have proved over the years that we always find a way to evolve that doesn’t look retro. It always has this new, modern, fresh feel but still respects our history.

“For the first generation of Panamera there was no predecessor, but it would have been a big mistake not to use some of our very strong brand elements. We used quite a few and you can see this in the car at first glance.”

What is the reason for the move away from traditional buttons on the dashboard to using touch-sensitive flat panels?

“On the interior we have always been criticised for so many buttons, with some saying that it looks completely old fashioned, so one reason is that we wanted to make it look much more modern. The other reason is that in the new world of digitalisation we have more possibilities to combine functions and to partly take decisions away from the customer. There are buttons that you don’t need to push as often. We decided to stick to our logic, so you still have access to the function with just one push, but make it look much cleaner and modern.”

“The centrally mounted rev counter is probably the best example in the car to show how we are combining the modern world and the old world. It you look at its detailing, it is much richer and looks like an expensive watch. In combination with the digitial screens, it builds up a very nice tension. I think developments that are very extreme in one direction always create an opposite. This is Porsche’s way of combining its tradition with the future.”

How will Porsche design evolve as electric and hybrid models become more common?

“Our concept cars, such as the Mission E, give the first glance of how we can further develop traditional Porsche design cues but combine them with new elements. For example, if you take the topography of the front end of Mission E, the front wings are higher than the bonnet, but the car doesn’t have a conventional front light anymore. Instead, it is basically an air intake, because aerodynamics plays such an important role for electric cars. We try to combine traditional elements with new ones.”

Will not having to create a car around an internal combustion engine be liberating for a designer?

“This huge metal block has gone and now you have all these batteries in the floor. So yes you have removed one thing but on the other hand a new challenge is how to design around the batteries. One thing disappears but something else appears. It is a different challenge and you have to start to think in a new way. Only when the powertrain issue disappears completely and our cars receive their power over the airwaves will a designer have complete freedom…”

Is reducing drag playing an increasingly important role in car design?

“With electric cars low drag plays a much bigger role in affecting the driving range. It’s vital to look at how the air goes around the car, and how you can steer and influence the air.

Take the wheels, for example: the most aerodynamically efficient way would be to cover the wheels, but from a design point of view that looks horrible, especially on a Porsche. So on the Mission E concept we tried to find ways to influence the air stream around and through the wheels.

This is something we can learn from Porsche racing cars. An LMP1 car is purely aerodynamic so as well we have the advantage in the company that we can have access to this knowledge and experience. We have to adjust and maybe lose a little bit of the efficiency for road cars, but the principle still works.”

Our Verdict

Porsche Panamera

Can the four-door Porsche Panamera still do what’s expected of a Porsche?

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Comments
3

29 June 2016
Looks great. but surely the must frustrating job in car-design..we want you to redesign the 911..yep, a blank page..but, just keep it exactly the same as the last version.. Facepalm.

30 June 2016
We have a game to keep the two car-mad children busy on long drives - spot something uglier than a Porsche Panamera. It's a hard game with few possibilities (that old Mazda 121 with the boot?). Looks like Porsche have ruined our fun.

30 June 2016
We have a game to keep the two car-mad children busy on long drives - spot something uglier than a Porsche Panamera. It's a hard game with few possibilities (that old Mazda 121 with the boot?). Looks like Porsche have ruined our fun.

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