Porsche and Audi are both part of the vast Volkswagen automotive empire. That means each has access to any production or technology knowledge others in the group enjoy and vice versa. But that hasn’t led to both companies putting out badge-engineered products like General Motors did for decades back in the days when the only difference between a Chevy and a Pontiac was the label on the trunk lid.
True, the Porsche Cayenne and the Audi A7 are essentially the same car, as are the Porsche Macan and the Audi Q5. But Porsche has nothing like the Audi A8 in its portfolio and no Audi resembles the iconic Porsche 911. Even the ground breaking Porsche Mission E four-door all-electric sedan has no equivalent in Audi’s future sales brochures.
In a recent interview with Stuttgart Zietung, Oliver Blume, CEO of Porsche, and Rupert Stadler, Audi’s head honcho, laid out a new vision that will see both companies cooperate more closely in the development of shared platforms for future electric cars. The reason is simple. The pair says working together will slash development cost by nearly a third.
The following is based on a translation by Google. It has been edited slightly for clarity and to harmonize the translation with standard English conventions. With that being said, let’s dive into the conversation, shall we?
Cooperation Is The Key
“From 2021 onward, we want to bring several models and vehicle generations to the road. We have to remember the challenge facing our industry: it’s about getting high-reach e-vehicles on the road. This is an enormous challenge on both the cost and the benefits side.
“At the same time, we are working on autonomous vehicles, driving digitalization forward and dealing with completely new customer challenges. Everyone in our company understands that we can only compete outside the competition if we work closely together in these key future fields. Our competition is not within the group, it is outside. And so, sometime in 2016, we came up with the idea of cooperating with electric vehicles.”
Blume adds, “We have founded two project houses, one of them at the Audi headquarters in Ingolstadt. The second in Weissach, where Porsche has its development center. Audi currently has about 550 developers, Porsche 300. We have introduced two occupancy days per week. Otherwise, the teams work together via video conferencing and Skype. We have distributed the responsibility so that every brand has the vehicle modules that best suits them.” The pair say their investment in the development program will cost “a low single digit billion amount” between now and 2025.
Why Now And Not Sooner?
And why did they not start developing shared electric vehicle architecture sooner? Blume fields that one. “When we started the projects, we had a different starting point and different approaches. Our first pure electric cars are conceptually far apart, so we proceeded separately. We benefit from the experiences together. However, there are already collaborations and synergies in this project as well — for example, we are purchasing the cells from the South Korean manufacturer LG Chem, which has set up a factory in Poland for this purpose.”
Asked whether the first cars resulting from the new collaboration will be sedans or SUVs, the bosses outlined some of the considerations that will affect those decisions. Oliver Blume put it this way, “During this year we will decide which models will start when. The kits we are developing now offer many possibilities. The CO2 requirements also play a role in the question of which model with which drive will come on the market and when.”
Market acceptance is also an issue. A lack of charging infrastructure is not helping, but Porsche, Audi, BMW, and Ford are jointly promoting the Ionity fast charging network that will see 400 chargers installed along major European transportation routes in the next three years. Blume says Porsche has been pleasantly surprised to find that 60% of its Panamera customers are opting for the new plug-in hybrid version, an indication that customer resistance to electric cars is weakening. “We have a social obligation to make the world even more livable in the future,” he says. “Sustainability is an important strategic goal for us at Porsche.”
Great Profits Are Not An End In Themselves
Asked about the (richly deserved) recent criticism of the auto industry for its reluctance to jump into the electric car realm with both feet the way Tesla has, Blume offered this explanation:
“We want to convince with facts and actions. Of course, we also realize that the car industry is currently under criticism, which to a large extent we have caused ourselves. It’s not just about the products, but also about sustainable production — ultimately the entire value chain.
“We ask ourselves this question: what is the purpose of an automobile company? Great profits are not an end in themselves. The profits serve to finance the future and take responsibility. We want enthusiastic customers and secure, sustainable jobs, but also society and social projects are very important to us. The next three to five years will be a big challenge, especially in terms of e-mobility and digitization, but I’m convinced our customers will appreciate what Porsche is doing in those areas.”
No Bans, Thank You Very Much
With many nations and and even some cities talking about banning cars with internal combustion engines as early as 2o30, companies which currently manufacture those vehicles have to be a little bit nervous. “We are very clearly opposed to driving bans.” Oliver Blume says. “They are not a solution and not a panacea. We are promoting holistic solutions in the partnerships we have created with Ludwigsburg and Stuttgart.”
The Adults In The Room
Oliver Blume and Rupert Stadler don’t have the showmanship skills of Elon Musk. They don’t send rockets into space with a pristine 1963 Porsche 911 or a first generation Audi Quattro tucked into the nose cone but they clearly understand their industry and are making appropriate plans to meet future challenges in a reasoned and rational way. And both of their companies know how to turn out world class automobiles in great numbers, something even the redoubtable Elon Musk has not yet mastered (which is not to say he won’t figure it out — eventually.)
Having adults with their hands on the tiller may be one of both companies’ greatest strengths.
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