Smart Porsche Thinking on Future Mobility

Senior Porsche engineer takes a swipe at Silicon Valley upstarts, and disses hydrogen fuel cells.

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A Porsche engineer lays out the firm's vision on the future of mobility. More later.

Porsche Mission E interior. Photo via Porsche Newsroom

Environmental concerns will determine the vehicles of the future, rather than new technology deployed for its own sake says a senior Porsche engineer.

In a wide ranging interview with an internal publication, the Technical Director at Porsche Engineering Dirk Lappe sets out his thinking on autonomous vehicles, and electric drive versus hydrogen fuel cells.

Lappe diverges from the received wisdom in some interesting ways, notably on autonomous cars.

‘Autonomous driving is, to my mind, more of a concept in smart mobility that contributes to CO2 reduction, not an end in itself,’ he says.

By this he means connected cars directed by ‘intelligent traffic control systems’ to make transport much more efficient, principally in cities.

But there will still be a place for a human driver. ‘Ferry Porsche once said that the last car ever built will be a sports car. What that means to me is that even in future vehicles, driving pleasure and the appreciation of having one’s own, personal mobility will continue to be the focus.’

Enthusiasts will welcome that but may be disappointed to hear just how keen Lappe is on electric cars.

He describes them as ‘highly emotional products’ with an ‘outstanding driving experience’ thanks to their instant acceleration, and new style interiors due to more compact power units.

At this point it’s relevant to point out that the Porsche Engineering consultancy is distinct from the car manufacturer (though it did develop the original Boxster Spyder, and owns the famous Nardo test track in southern Italy).

However, the all-electric Mission E sports saloon, recently confirmed for production in 2020, shows the whole group is thinking along the same lines – though there is an apparent conflict with stablemate brand Audi.

Th interview first appeared in the February 2015 edition of Porsche Engineering magazine – read it in its entirety here – but was republished last week by Porsche Newsroom, shortly after Audi debuted a hydrogen fuel cell concept at the Detroit auto show.

Lappe says an expected doubling of the all-important driving range available from lithium-ion batteries in the next five years – and the ‘technological leap’ to lithium-sulphur batteries with five times the capacity of current batteries by 2030 – will be enough to keep EVs ahead of hydrogen.

That, plus the sheer cost of the platinum in the fuel cell catalysts and the specialist insulating material needed for the tanks, quite apart from the lack of a refuelling network: ‘A sensible battery or plug-in hybrid concept will continue to be far superior to a fuel cell concept both in terms of application and the cost-benefit ratio for a long time to come, while achieving similar sustainability performance through the use of liquid or gaseous fuels from renewable sources.’

Emissions come not just from the vehicles themselves of course but the whole industrial apparatus needed to produce them.

In this context he dismisses the apparent threat from upstart US firms. ‘The new mobility services being announced in Silicon Valley that will allegedly flow from the advent of autonomous vehicles, or potentially changing business models due to new players emerging as competition to the conventional automotive industry, are, for now, either of secondary importance, or indeed counter-productive, in resolving the CO2 problem,’ he says.

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