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 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.
In that sense Mauer should go down in history as the most influential Porsche designer since his predecessor Harm Lagaay.
One of his most interesting comments was to reveal that Porsche boss Matthias Muller spends a lot of time in the design studio supporting Mauer and his team.
For Mauer it means that the boss is fully informed when the key decisions need to be made. Mauer, for example, was able to get Muller’s support to rejig the 991 Gen 2 project budget so the door handles could be re-designed — a feature that Mauer wanted to change.
Finally, Porsche fronted-up Stephan Weckbach, responsible for the Mission E project. Weckbach is in his late 30s, has been in charge of the Boxster/Cayman line for two years.Relaxed and enthusiastic, Weckbach appears to be taking the additional responsibility for a car described as ‘potentially as important as the 911’ in his stride.
The car industry is adopting a new technical language around electrification – pouch cells, controllers, voltages and kilowatt hours are just as likely to slip into a conversation as horsepower these days and Weckbach is at the forefront.
He’s also helped by a brilliant command of colloquial English, and as an example of the engineer of the future suggests that Porsche will be in as very good hands in the coming decade as the past.