Porsche adding juice to electric future

Russ Mitchell
Los Angeles Times

San Francisco — The 500-horsepower gasoline engine of the new Porsche 911 GT3 RS can blast a driver from zero to 62 mph in 3.2 seconds.

How fast can the German automaker manage the transition to a future of electric vehicles and robot-driven cars?

The company addressed that question in its hometown of Stuttgart this month, laying out plans to double investment in “trends for the future,” with all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars accounting for 25 percent of new car sales by 2025.

Porsche has been on a roll, with significant expansions in its sales, profits and employee base over the past five years. Its financial cushion will be used to finance the strategic transition.

“We are using our high earnings level to support an unprecedented future development plan,” Porsche Chairman Oliver Blume said in the company’s hours-long annual earnings announcement meeting.

The Porsche brand is well known worldwide. It sold 246,375 of its expensive, high-performance vehicles in 2017, generating 4 percent higher revenues of $21 billion, compared with 2016. Its operating profit rose 7 percent to $5 billion, or a stunning $20,000 on each car.

The company has an avid following in California, which accounted for 24 percent of the 55,470 cars it sold in the U.S.

Porsche will invest $3.75 billion in new technology in the next four years, as much as it has to date, Blume said. The money will be spent on derivatives of the upcoming all-electric Mission E sedan, adding hybrid versions of existing gasoline models, electric charging technology, and “smart mobility” including new digital services.

Like other automakers, Porsche is under pressure from existing and pending regulations around the globe forcing it to cut greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. Electric car technology is currently the surest route to cleaner air, but although EV interest is growing, the vast majority of new vehicle buyers prefer internal combustion engines.

Porsche sells some of the most sophisticated and powerful internal combustion engines in the world. But executives believe electric cars, which offer tremendous torque from a stationary position, will appeal to enough Porsche buyers to validate its its new investments.

Detlev von Platen, Porsche’s head of sales and marketing, said he initially wasn’t sure an EV could match internal combustion cars for pure driving pleasure. That was years ago. The powertrains provide a different driving experience, but he said a test drive in a high-end EV will attract plenty of new fans.

The trick for Porsche, he said, is ensuring its EVs are well-balanced sports cars. Simple torque and horsepower won’t cut it. He looks forward to matching Porsche’s EV offerings against competitors on Germany’s famous Nurburgring Gran Prix track in Germany. “We have a lot of respect for what has been done so far from our other competitors” in the high-end EV market, Von Platen said, without mentioning Tesla by name.

The Mission E, the first Porsche all-electric, delivers 600 horsepower from two electric motors, a zero-to-62 time of 3.5 seconds and a range topping 300 miles. It is due in 2019. The company introduced a crossover sport utility variant this month at the Geneva auto show.

The company also plans to introduce a superfast 800-volt home charger that can add 215 miles in 15 minutes. “It’s very important to us not only to (provide) speed on the track and on the road but also speed in charging,” Von Platen said.

Mass adoption of totally self-driving cars is a long way off, Von Plaen believes. In the nearer future, he sees a Porsche driver and spouse driving country roads on a Saturday, hitting the city, drinking some wine, and letting the car’s autonomous driving system take them home.