All-electric model "is not impossible," he says
Following the successful launch of the third new Porsche 911 developed during his 18-year stint as product director of the iconic sports car, “Mr. 911” August Achleitner is transitioning to retirement. The Austrian-born mechanical engineer who started at Porsche in the chassis development department in 1983 will spend the first quarter of 2019 attending media launches of various 992-generation models and handing the reins to Porsche’s current head of motorsports, Frank-Steffen Walliser. We caught up with Achleitner at the official introduction of the 911 Cabriolet (and 718 Boxster/Cayman T models he also had responsibility for) at the Geneva motor show to chat about the challenge of reengineering an icon and his hopes for the 911’s future.
Is developing the next 911 the world’s easiest or hardest job?
What we are presenting today has involved decisions made over the past three years, and the Porsche engineer is always creative. There are of course new ideas. We get results out of pre-development activities. We get results of feedback from the customer and from the press of course, and we have to fulfill requirements from all over the world. We mix it together, and define the next sports car after this one—which is obviously better than the old one.
Your predecessor introduced water-cooling. What was your biggest change?
The change from the normally aspirated engines to the turbocharged Carreras. This was not an easy decision for us because our normally aspirated engines had a characteristic sound and the ability to rev to almost 8,000 rpm. We decided, okay let’s change to the turbocharged engine, but we want to keep the behavior and the characteristic of the normally aspirated engines, and I think it worked quite well. The feedback is good from all customers and we still rev to 7,500. This, in combination with high torque at low revs, makes the engine better than the old one.
What about plans to electrify the 911?
With the new 992 vehicle we wanted to make the car suitable for the future, and that includes the possibility to integrate an electric-drive. The new four-shaft PDK is more compact, so we could offer more space between these shafts and the engine itself where we can integrate an electric motor. Together with this hardware solution we also have the software solution because the electronic platform of this car is the same system as in the Panamera.
Why not offer hybridization from the start?
We are also developing the Taycan, the new electrically driven Macan, and a new platform with Audi. We have no engineers left to deliver such technology also for the 911, and the Taycan and the next Macan can fulfill all CO2 requirements for the company. Now if there are limitations on going into big cities we can react—that is the most important thing.
What would an electrified 911 look like?
We are thinking of a 919 [hybrid Le Mans racer] because this is the combination that is embracing a 911. A 911 must be attractive from the sports driver point of view. It must produce fun in the car and the car has to be fast.
You had responsibility for the 718 cars as well. Do you ever daydream about putting the biggest, best 911 engines in the 718?
This would not work. In very powerful Boxster cars like the GTS we see some thermodynamic limitations of the car coming with the exhaust system and the special layout, which is [a disadvantage] for the series production car. Also, the strut rear axle in the 718 works perfectly for up to, let me say, GT4 S in the past, but to install more power in this car, would create really big changes in the rear part of the car to make it suitable and also really fast. You know, if you look at the RSR for example, the racing version of the 911, we changed the concept and made a mid-engine car. But this mid-engine layout was just a necessity of the race tracks, which gave a little bit of an advantage to having a better rear diffuser. So this car is a little bit better in competitiveness compared to the rear-engine car. For the standard 911 production series we will not change it to a mid-engine layout.
Porsche is on record vowing to keep the GT3 models naturally aspirated. How much more power can these engines develop?
Let me just say, we are hard at work on improving it again, but the situation right now is not so easy fulfilling emissions requirements—especially in Europe with a particulate filter. So I expect a small increase in power for the next generation.
Can displacement increase?
Today’s relationship between bore and stroke is optimum. Maybe we try it, but the masses become even bigger with more displacement. So this 4.0-liter today is quite optimum.
Your competitors are dropping manual transmissions. Might the 911 soon follow?
We will introduce the manual around the end of this year in the 992, and right now, we plan that for the future. Maybe it’s a little more influenced by legal requirements for emissions noise and so on, but for now we don’t want to stop it. The customers want it—especially in the U.S.
Where do you see the 911 fitting in to the electric/autonomous future?
If I compare the situation in 2019 with 2009, I think the future is not so clear. Of course we want to keep the combustion engine as long as possible, especially with the flat-six. I don’t expect the future to be too dark, because I have had several opportunities to test drive the Taycan. And in my opinion, it is one of the sportiest Porsches we have seen. So if you would have asked me two years ago if I could imagine a 911 that was completely electrically driven I would have said no. After several test rides with the Taycan I say it is not impossible.
Might autonomy allow Porsches to show a driver how your own pros would attack a circuit?
Well of course we have some assisted systems, and the Track Precision app, which we will improve for the future. We plan for some interesting next steps. Maybe we’ll go in this way as you described it. And with recommendations of different drivers—for example, Mark Weber. We always look for good solutions which are interesting and fit our sports cars. That is the most important thing.