Over the last few years I’ve got to know Porsche a lot better than at any time since I started in this business in the late 1980s.
I’ve been on a few launches and interviewed a number of their bosses over the years, but three interviews at Frankfurt provided rare insight into the corporate mind of a company that fascinates so many enthusiasts, not only for the fabulous cars it produces, but the manner in which it executes.
First off was August Achleitner, whose official title is Leiter Baureihe Porsche 911 or, to you and me, vice president 911 product line. Achleitner has been ‘Mr 911’ ever since I can remember – I think I first interviewed him around the launch of the 996.
He is quite reserved, very professional, wears a neat, but not flashy suit, and is clearly a man well in charge of his brief. He could write a terrific book about the recent history of the 911.
Of course like so many brilliant car industry engineers he is fluent in English, not just ‘a coffee please’ holiday-English, but full-on technical English.
We Brit hacks take it for granted that overseas engineers and designers can field questions in fluent technical English, but we shouldn’t.
So when a journalist probes with a long speech masquerading as a rambling question (not me, clearly), he absorbs the message and fires back a succinct answer. Impressive, as always.
Amongst many nuggets that will form the basis of a future story, he told us that the turbocharged 911 has been in development since the 991 series was launched four years ago, with full-on production engineering in swing for just two years.
Porsche then slipped in an unexpected opportunity to talk to Michael Mauer, design director since 2004.
The 53-year old Mauer is tanned and initially reserved, but relaxes as the questions flow, and also has an excellent command of English, helped by a career mostly played out in the limelight, including significant spells at Mercedes, GM and Saab.
Mauer has been at the helm of design in the fastest expansion period in Porsche’s history, when it has added the Porsche Panamera, Porsche Macan and 918 Spyder, while revamping the Boxster/Cayman, 911 and Porsche Cayenne.
In that sense Mauer should go down in history as the most influential Porsche designer since his predecessor Harm Lagaay.