CAR interviews Porsche R&D boss Dr Wolfgang Hatz

Published: 24 November 2014

As you’ve probably read in our spy shot story about development plans for the current 911, every mainstream version of this legendary sports car is due to get a turbocharged engine in 2015.

This is great news for efficiency – and torque – but has implications for driver involvement, in the way the power is delivered, engine response and engine noise. We’re pleased to report that a few minutes with Porsche’s board member in charge of research and design, Dr Wolfgang Hatz, confirms that he agrees, and suggests that Porsche won’t abandon the normally aspirated engine altogether.

‘I like high-revving normally aspirated engines,’ he said. ‘So I think there is still a good opportunity to have at least the choice!’

Responding to suggestions that the next 911 would be all-turbocharged, he expanded: ‘As a mainstream technology, turbo direct injection is for sure something which we have to work on. But on the other hand on sports cars I like the sound and the speed range of high-revving normally aspirated. I think we should not be too worried that there are not alternatives [to turbocharging].’

‘The fight is not lost!’ he added.

Could this mean an increased number of hybrid Porsches instead?

Given that Porsche already has the widest range of plug-in hybrid models of any car brand – Panamera, Cayenne and 918 Spyder – it seems that electric power could be one way for Porsche to keep the non-turbo engine alive. Hatz wasn’t prepared to comment exactly on future products, but the signs are there in what he did say.

‘If you look at alternative powertrain technology, especially on plug-ins, I think we have made a good job. We have now three cars on the grid. We have in each segment, sedan, SUV and sports car, we have the technology. On this side we are well settled. We continue this. I believe very strongly in plug-in technology – that’s the reason I pushed for this, and the results are there.

‘If you look at our racing programme on the 919, the strong side of our car is the powertrain, the hybrid system on the car and the energy recovery systems.’

Could Porsche build an all-electric car, then?

Porsche, under the guidance of Dr Hatz, is already leading the advance of battery technology within the Volkswagen Group.

‘If there is a breakthrough in this technology that would help a lot to get enough energy density for a longer e-drive [electric-only] range or even for a battery-electric vehicle.’

But critically better batteries might also allow Porsche to keep high-revving normally aspirated engines. ‘Why not!’ Hatz says, ‘The 918 shows it’s sehr gut!’

As enthusiasts we might not like the sound of all this, but technology such as turbocharging and hybrid systems are vital for meeting future CO2 requirements; by 2020, for example, the EU has tasked every car manufacturer to have average CO2 emissions of just 95g/km.

What other challenges does Porsche in the future?

One of the side effects of electric drive technology is extra weight, and increasingly stringent safety testing isn’t about to help in this regard, either.

You may have seen a lot of fuss over the last few days about the new ‘small overlap’ test in the USA. This is causing a number of cars substantial problems already, as the overlap test essentially bypasses their existing safety structures.

Hatz is careful to emphasis that Porsche already builds very safe cars (‘that is always our philosophy’), but that in the end, the only way to meet new regulations – whatever they might be – is to ‘enhance the structure of the car’ and this means adding more weight. But this won’t be the end of exciting Porsches.

‘What is very important at Porsche is that you have to sit in the car, and you have to drive the car, and feel the car, the steering, everything, without seeing the car and know that this is a Porsche. We have to always have the Porsche feeling in the car.’

Will Porsche ever build a self-driving car?

Never say never, but Porsche does not believe this is what its customers are looking for at the moment. Hatz is also dismissive of claims that such technology will be on the road on a large scale within the next four or five years. Besides, as Hatz points out, there’s a sense in which self-driving technology already exists: it’s called a taxi.

However, Porsche is already working on technology that will ‘support’ the driver in the best way possible. This kind of ‘intelligent performance’ currently falls under the working umbrella title of ‘InnoDrive’, a series of systems that will optimise all aspects of the car for the conditions under which it is being driven.

By integrating the satellite navigation further into the drivetrain so that the correct gear is already selected for the topography – whether that be accelerating up a hill or harvesting waste energy on the way back down – and enhancing stability control electronics to the maximum, InnoDrive will allow anyone to drive faster while using significantly less fuel.

The key thing about this is not only does the steering wheel remain in the driver’s hands, you can switch it off if you don’t like it. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?

‘We will offer it in the next generation of cars,’ Hatz confirms.

By CJ Hubbard

Head of the Bauer Automotive Hub, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count