Wolfgang Hatz is a big man with a big job. He's the Porsche board member responsible for R&D, the very life-blood of what has always been and remains an engineering-led company.
Jason Barlow05 December 2013
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But he also has a big laugh, and an engaging habit of setting up his anecdotes like a stand-up comedian, before knocking them out of the park with a punch line. Some of them are even quite funny. It's fair to say that this is not your standard German automotive bigwig behaviour.
He's also refreshingly happy to wander off-piste conversationally. Porsche means so much to so many of us that he's well used to deflecting criticisms from purists about modish and therefore allegedly anti-Porsche innovations such as four-wheel steer and all-electric steering.
Well, we better get used to it: if Hatz has his way, there's plenty more where that came from.
"I visited Google's HQ last week," he tells me. ‘They have these things called "moon shots" [part of the company's Google X skunkworks]. They embark on all sorts of projects, and there's no need for a business case. Out of every 10 they develop, nine might go nowhere and only one will work. But that one idea could be revolutionary. I love that philosophy.'
Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page dislikes the corporate disease of incremental growth, and rather than accepting 10 per cent improvement, he wants to promote a culture in which things are done 10 times better than the competition.
Hatz would like to do the same at Porsche, but he accepts there are hurdles. "We're an engineering company, and Google is too. The challenge we have is that the car is the most complicated mass produced product in the world."
Google, of course, is also zealously promoting the idea of fully automated cars, an idea that gives TopGear.com the collywobbles. Sure, a zero fatality/zero collision future is unarguably a good thing, but where does it leave the idea of a car that does more than just schlep from A to B? A Porsche, in other words? Hatz smiles.
"We make driver's cars. So automated technology is not a priority for us. It is not an area in which we need to be pioneering. The truth is that nobody really needs a Porsche, but lots of people still want one. Realistically, the idea of autonomous driving is not going to happen within the next five years."
Hatz, like other R&D figures, concedes that a world of autonomous commuter vehicles in dedicated lanes is feasible, with sports cars reserved for weekend hedonism. We still don't much fancy the idea.
He's an early adopter, the first person during his time at BMW to acquire an Apple Mac, and one of the first people in Munich to twig onto the possibilities of the internet. He's also good friends with Elon Musk, whose Tesla Model S he greatly admires. This guy clearly loves his technology.
But the plug-in hybrid, he insists, is the best bet for Porsche for the next five to 10 years, and not an all-electric powertrain. "The plug-in hybrid offers the best synthesis between performance and sustainability," he says.
As to the slow progress in battery technology - experts reckon on an approximate eight to 10 per cent efficiency gain per year versus 20 to 25 per cent in conventional internal combustion - he anticipates greater progress. "The mobile phone and the iPad radically changed things. Whoever can change the battery cell and improve its range and overall efficiency will change the world."
He also reminds us that the 918 Spyder's hybrid systems are integral to the car and its performance, and not merely a marketing fig leaf. In fact, it would have been five seconds slower round the 'Ring without the hybrid support, even though the electric motors, battery cells and ancillaries weigh 314kg.
So even though it would fit with Porsche's ideology, there will never be a conventionally powered 918 Spyder Clubsport or RS. There's no need, Hatz says. Having driven the 918, we can only agree. How much faster does anyone really need to go?
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