Porsche R&D chief talks Tesla, fuel cells and battery tech

  • Published on April 17th, 2020

Michael Steiner is the head of research and development at Porsche. Recently, he sat down for a chat with Christiaan Hetzner, a correspondent for Automotive News Europe. Hetzner started off by asking whether Porsche is a Tesla rival. “Although people like to play us off against each other, we do not consider Tesla to be a direct rival. With the Model 3, it’s clear that they are more aggressively targeting the volume segment.” Porsche clearly is not a volume brand, but it’s likely the firm wouldn’t mind a few more sales.

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Next, he asked where the two companies are in terms of battery technology.

“Tesla employs round cells, a slightly different chemistry and another cooling concept, all of which have their specific advantages and disadvantages,” Steiner said. “In our opinion the kind of high battery capacities you might find installed in a Model S are not ideal in terms of sustainability. We believe in smaller, lighter and therefore less expensive batteries that can be recharged more quickly. It’s not our aspiration to be the leader in electric range.”

Steiner also addressed his company’s plans for phasing out internal combustion engines.

“[W]hile we don’t currently plan to develop another combustion engine architecture, that doesn’t mean that we cannot maintain and improve models using the existing ones. That is valid for the Macan, because we cannot expect electric mobility to advance in all regions at the same pace. So we currently anticipate that in specific segments there will be a need to offer both a combustion engine and a full electric or plug-in hybrid version in parallel. Customers and regulators will determine how long it will be necessary to maintain this.”

That doesn’t mean a conventional Macan and an electric Macan will look the same with slightly different badges on their flanks.

“[W]e will considerably differentiate them in terms of design so that it’s possible to immediately identify which is which. We believe that during the transition to EVs customers want to be seen as driving electric.

The Panamera rides on the company’s MSB platform for rear wheel drive cars. Hetzner asked if it would be phased out.

“The Panamera platform is not old, it debuted in 2016. We still have a lot of ideas for it in terms of infotainment and connectivity. But there is currently no plan to replace this platform — instead, we want to keep it fresh and attractive as long as possible.

Porsche’s reputation is based on a tradition of building sports car. When asked how electrification will impact that side of the business — which sees far fewer sales than its passenger car offerings — Steiner replied, “We are convinced that very sporty cars, and roadsters in particular, need to be really flat. Drivers of a 911 or 718 want to sit as close as possible to the road.”

“While electric cars have a low center of gravity thanks to their batteries being installed in the floor, that is not the only relevant aspect. To experience that sports car feeling it’s also about your body’s own center of gravity and how high up you are seated. That’s why we want to develop such a platform, but there has not been a final decision on this matter.”

Finally, Hetzner inquired about whether Porsche is pursuing hydrogen fuel cells as a means of powering its future cars.

“We continue to examine it,” Steiner said, “but at the moment this technology is not suited to Porsche. For one, the typical output of a stack is about 100 kilowatts, so if you want more power you still need to include a large battery to provide peak output. That means you need even more room for their installation. Secondly, the system’s overall energy efficiency is very poor because it takes a lot of electricity to split water into hydrogen, distribute it to fuel stations and convert it back to electricity.”

That’s something Steiner and Elon Musk can agree on.
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(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica.)

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writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

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