Porsche Is Being Extremely Careful About Electrifying the 911

All images: Porsche
All images: Porsche

Porsche is in a tough spot. The brand has to offer electric vehicles to stay relevant, but at the same time, it’s got to avoid diluting its identity, which is—especially in the case of the Porsche 911—inherently linked to internal combustion engines. I spoke about this with Porsche’s member of the executive board for sales and marketing, Detlev von Platen, and learned that the Stuttgart-based company is extremely hesitant about sending high voltage through its most legendary nameplate.

Advertisement

There are certain things that make a Porsche 911 a Porsche 911—things like the particular way that incredible Boxer engine delivers power, the beautiful sound emanating from that motor, and the rear-biased weight distribution. These major attributes help define the 911, and all three of them would likely be compromised by full electrification.

An all-electric 911 would probably have a flat-mounted battery pack between the axles like more and more EVs do these days. Some call it a “skateboard” setup; it offers significant packaging and handling benefits (and safety advantages, too, if I had to guess).

Advertisement

Because of the heft of batteries, the position of that battery pack would play a more significant role in defining the car’s weight distribution than any rear-mounted electric motor would, as that would be relatively lightweight.

Illustration for article titled Porsche Is Being Extremely Careful About Electrifying the 911

There are obviously certain ways that Porsche could still give the theoretical EV 911 a rear weight bias, but my point here is that a fully electric vehicle offers a new set of challenges to Porsche’s long-standing rear weight bias that has been achieved by slapping the motor out back. In addition to this possible compromise of one of the 911's core tenets, an EV 911 would likely have the exact same power delivery (“instant torque” as many call it) as every other EV, and it would likely sound not too different from other EVs on the market.

And is a Porsche 911 that sounds like every other car, that has the same weight distribution, and that delivers power in the same way truly a 911?

Advertisement

This was the premise of my question to Mr. von Platen, and his response made it extremely obvious that Porsche is intimately aware of the potential affects of electrifying its legendary sports car, which is why the brand is being extremely careful to proceed on that front.

“If you will ask our fans and passionate customers especially in the United States about having a 911 electric, you can imagine the reaction we will have,” von Platen told me, referencing what happened when the 911 went to water cooling (“people came to us and said ‘that’s not the 911 anymore,’” he told us) and when it went to a mostly-turbocharged engine lineup.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled Porsche Is Being Extremely Careful About Electrifying the 911

“We have this reaction all the time when we touch the 911. When we touch the sound...that’s normal. I think that’s a good sign,” he continued, going on to say that the 911 will continue to have an internal combustion engine, and that electrification plans—even hybridization— have not been made.

Advertisement

“I think today and for the next few years to come, we don’t have the question. We clearly see the 911 concept, the 911 idea, being a six cylinder boxer engine without any kind of electrification with the very typical sound of the 911.”

But what about 10 to 20 years from now? Well, von Platen says he thinks the 911 will continue to exist, but perhaps with some sort of “technology evolution.” The most recent iteration of the legendary nameplate, for example, was designed with provisions for hybridization built-in, but even though von Platen says Porsche “could imagine having a hybrid concept on the 911,” he said the decision has yet to be made. Ultimately, he told journalists, it will be the customers who decide.

Advertisement

As for fully electrifying the 911, he said it was much too early to discuss that topic.

Still, as for my premise that electrifying would inherently take the 911 out of the 911, von Platen said that 911 soul can indeed be built into an electric car. “When you will drive a Taycan,” he said, “you will recognize a little bit of the 911.”

Advertisement

“The way it drives...in the way it behaves...in the way the steering wheel behaves,” he continued, saying the steering directness will be line with the brand’s GT models.

“The Taycan is I think our right time answer about what we believe belongs and fits to Porsche at this time of the period.”

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled Porsche Is Being Extremely Careful About Electrifying the 911

In addition to von Platen’s comments about how the 911's character can be built into even an electric car through things like steering and handling, Porsche’s CEO Oliver Blume was asked about how the lack of sound of an electric Porsche would affect its character.

Advertisement

Blume said that the Taycan will have a sound, though it will obviously be much different than that of an internal combustion engine. But that’s okay, because it’s possible that future generations may not associate the sound of an ICE with power and acceleration and driving dynamics like we do, he continued.

He also said that emotion is about more than just noise, it’s also about design, quality, driving characteristics, and things like a low seating position.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled Porsche Is Being Extremely Careful About Electrifying the 911

So it seems like Porsche is being careful in the way it talks about the future of the 911. The company admits that the car’s Boxer-six engine is a key part of its character, and it’s clear Porsche is aware that fans might decry a move to electrification. That’s why it allegedly hasn’t decided yet on when it will offer a hybrid, and it apparently thinks it’s too early to even talk about an EV variant.

Advertisement

But at the same time, Porsche wants to make clear that there are certain traits of a 911—mostly things related to vehicle dynamics—that can totally be built into an electric car.

It’s clear that, on the topic of an EV 911, Porsche is walking on eggshells.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

actualrootwyrm
Spamfeller Loves Nazi Clicks

Porsche knows damn well that the second they electrify the 911, their existing market is gone. Not “reduced.” Nobody who is currently shopping 911's, none of their fans, none of their current or previous owners are EVER coming back. It will be the absolute and immediate end of the 911.

Don’t believe me, go look at the reaction to introducing a watercooled engine. Yes, the sales numbers went way, way up for those generations. But there is an army of people who refuse to buy or do anything but look down their nose at any 911 that isn’t aircooled. They will not touch anything after the 993.

Then look at what happened going 997 to 991. You saw a huge segment of their core market just walk away. They will not buy a 911 with faked steering and electronic nannies (that’s even before getting into the ‘GT3 needs manual’ purists.)

Taking away the flat 6 would be ten times worse than both of those combined. No matter which group you talk to, they are going to all tell you the defining characteristic of the 911 is the flat 6. You put the Cayman GTS’ flat 4 in there and even if it’s making more power, they will walk. Because it’s not a 911. That’s part of why Taycan. That flat 6 is absolutely core to their brand identity across the board. (There are Cayman/Boxster people who turn their nose up at the turbo 4, even though it produces better power!)

People who buy Macans, Cayennes, Potatomera, and Taycan? These are not 911 customers. They are not traditional Porsche customers. This is not a bad thing. But the difference here is that the 911 is Porsche. No 911, no Porsche. Everyone recognizes that. They’ve already basically screwed the pooch on the 911 twice in the past 20 years. They can’t afford a third without blowing up the entire brand.