The top brass at Porsche puts immense trust in Michael Mauer and his design team. When it comes to thinking about cars of the future, Mauer says the bosses essentially give his team money and complete freedom. “[They] let us think about whatever we believe is relevant.”
This is how creativity works best, a point Mauer has proved time and time again with a long line of spectacular (and spectacularly popular) new Porsche models created under his tenure as chief designer, which began in 2004. He is only the third Head of Design at Porsche, following Ferdinand Alexander Porsche.
“I’m very happy that we as a design department have the opportunity to develop concepts and ideas without the pressure of production, without the pressure of being finished in nine months,” he says, speaking from Weissach. This design studio is where Mauer and his team designed the Porsche Panamera and Macan, the 918 Spyder, and re-invented the 911 – twice – with the 991 and 992-generation models.
Today, however, Mauer is taking the wraps off many never-before-seen Porsche concept cars. Models that were flights of fancy. Visions of the future. Dreams. “[These concepts] are not based on a board member or the CEO giving us a very defined task,” Mauer explains. These concept cars, instead of creating a derivative of an existing model or aiming to expand the product portfolio, were simply an opportunity to imagine the future. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a very small, very puristic sports car?” he asks. Well, it’s that type of question that prompted the 551 Vision Spyder concept car.
Even more shocking than the little sports cars, supercars, and the off-road 911, is the company’s unusual “van-ish” concept, as Mauer calls it. The question was never whether Porsche should expand its portfolio in this direction – but was instead more of an experiment. “A designer [said], ‘I have three children and two dogs and the Cayenne is too small.’ Is it possible to have a design language that is typical of Porsche on such a concept?” Mauer and his team wanted to find out. Incredibly, the answer is yes.
The designers at Porsche try to imagine cars “not for tomorrow, but for the day after tomorrow,” Mauer says. After looking towards the future, they focus their sights on the more immediate future to see what could be realized in the near term. He calls it “back-casting” rather than forecasting.
The way out of a creative rut, says Mauer, is to quickly come up with a lot of ideas. In his case, sketches. That’s how the design department operates with such free-form concepts: everyone submits a sketch before one is chosen to become a miniature or full-size model. The process can take as little as two months, before the team is onto the next thing. These quick, experimental projects keep the designers on their toes but they’re also important for the company, as Porsche’s leadership clearly recognizes. “It’s a very good way of making sure that the brand is developing,” Mauer says.
As for which of these unreleased concept cars Mauer would most like to make real and put in his own garage? It’s a tough question. “As a designer you feel attached to each of these projects; it’s always hard to say you prefer this or that. I still belong to a generation that loves driving,” he says. “So, this small, little puristic sports car – where it’s not technology that gives you the impression that you are a Formula One driver but the type of car where the difference is the driver – I personally would love to have that.” Reading between the lines, we’ll guess his favourite is one of the less-is-more, “little rebel” concepts, probably the Vision Spyder.
Regardless of whether or not one of these concept cars will ever sit in Mauer’s garage, he’s plenty satisfied. “To have the opportunity to really work on the future in a way that’s very free and to develop answers for the future, I’m very grateful for this,” he says. We’re grateful too.