Interview: Dr. Frank Walliser

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Interview: Dr. Frank Walliser 1
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The key to bring the fuel consumption of the car down is really in the engine, not so much the hybrid drivetrain.

Excellence: You’ve drawn on the historical connection of the 917, which was never a road car. Why is this connection so important to the 918?

Dr. Walliser: The 917 was the groundbreaking race car, maybe of the century, but definitely of its decade. It was something of a growing up for Porsche also, which was coming from all of these class victories as a small manufacturer [but never winning outright].

Also in the background, the 911 was already for six years established when the 917 introduced turbocharging for the first time in racing, and then just four years later it appeared on the street car, the 911 Turbo. It was very extreme from a technology standpoint, with a magnesium tube frame, for instance; they tried everything and they spent a lot of money. It was really the big step for Porsche in its next generation—the most important moment, the next “form” of Porsche.

You can’t compare the times directly, but…well, I’m not sure the general public will connect the 917 to the 918, but it provided a lot of internal fuel.

Excellence: How necessary was it for Porsche’s newest supercar to employ a hybrid drivetrain?

Dr. Walliser: The decision for the 918 was made in 2009. The merger with Volkswagen had just started, and the takeover trouble had just ended. It was necessary for Porsche from the inside to have a clear direction forward for the future. At the same time we had a hard economic crisis in the whole world, and the CO2 discussion was extremely hard in the U.S., in China and in Europe. And we realized that if sports cars disappeared, well, Porsche was gone. So we had to find a solution. We had the technology. And now the car is here.

Excellence: As part of a larger company that also produces super cars, how does the 918 help Porsche maintain its unique identity?

Dr. Walliser: I have a lot of colleagues [from other Volkswagen Group brands] that call every week and ask if they can have a ride in the 918! So I think there is a lot of interest from our new sisters and brothers in what we are doing, but the relationships are good. Talking to our colleagues from Bugatti and Lamborghini, I think it’s important that we have a good working relationship as small sports car manufacturers, but we have clearly different programs.

I don’t think there will ever be a 918 with a Lamborghini badge, or Audi. We closed this discussion in the beginning. Even in the [Volkswagen] group, we still make the [Porsche] decisions. We told the board, “Nope, we will not report [on this project] except to the supervisory board.”

I think this is part of the success story of the Volkswagen Group, that the brands are very alive, that they are not controlled from above. Each organization has its own culture. If you have several kids in your family, they all have their own character even though the parents are the same. It’s really about building these characters with the Volkswagen Group. The 918 is Porsche’s character.

Excellence: With only 918 examples of the 918 Spyder being built, what comes next?

Dr. Walliser: 919? No, just kidding! Honestly, a car like the 918 comes every decade, not every few years. Supercars are collector pieces, they’re fun. But we don’t always have to have a supercar. There’s been almost a decade since the Carrera GT. In five or ten years, or whenever we do another big project like this—whatever that is—it will serve as good motivation for members of the team to reach beyond.

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