Porsche Is Being Extremely Careful About Electrifying the 911

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.

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.

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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).

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.

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.

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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?

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.

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“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.

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“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.

“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.”

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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.

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

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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.”

“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.

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio