Madness into Method

As Porsche’s 2016 Panamera gets beach body ready, will edition 2.0 secure Michael Mauer’s legacy?

Oink! The 2015 Porsche Panamera. Image via Zombdrive.
Oink! The 2015 Porsche Panamera. Image: Zombdrive.

Auto Industry Management 101 states all car bosses must speak only in soundbites, remain resolutely on-message and above all, never badmouth the product. Especially product customers can still purchase new at their local dealer. All of which appears to have escaped Porsche MD, Matthias Muller’s notice at last September’s Paris motor show. With Porsche’s hunchbacked Panamera saloon a good 18 months shy of being taken to a quiet piece of woodland and whacked over the head with a shovel, Muller went comprehensively off-message, admitting to journalists aspects of the Panamera’s design could have been better. It was perilously close to being his own Gerald Ratner moment, yet he appears to have gotten away with it. But was he lucky or just absurdly confident?

The current Panamera, Michael Mauer’s first project as Porsche styling director, was not the most auspicious of calling cards. A vehicle only a smitten owner could love from the sanctity of its switch-laden cabin, the Panamera remains a bewilderingly unresolved piece of styling. Yet Mauer has since gone on to carve a deft course, particularly  with the design of Porsche’s sacred cow 911. Unsurprisingly, he remains unrepentant, but he too offered a tacit admission; acknowledging that many people don’t like the current Panamera before stating the new one will partially address this.

A lazy swipe is often made against designers like Mauer. You know how it goes; ‘he’s got the easiest job in car design, all he’s got to do is phone it in’. But perhaps it’s one of the toughest. All that heritage, the weight of history, the difficulty in maintaining a cohesive imprint from Macan 4×4 to 918 Spyder. Regardless of one’s opinion, can there be any doubt Porsche’s design team sweat the details as carefully as any of their peers? This being so however, how the current model was deemed acceptable is mystifying.

Next year's 25% less porcine Panamera. Image via driven.co.nz
Next year’s 25% less porcine Panamera. Image: driven.co.nz

Yet despite its regrettable rump, Panamera has been a sales success, outselling more established marques while simultaneously underlining the unassailable strength of Porsche’s brand. Next year’s Pan-Am is likely to be a more svelte machine; shorn of a good 25% less visual pork. It’s likely to significantly outstrip the sales performance of its predecessor, vindicating Mauer and cementing his position as the most commercially successful Porsche design chief ever. Perhaps there’s method in the madness after all?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

26 thoughts on “Madness into Method”

  1. No offence intended to Mauer, who has to deal with far more onerous regulatory constraints than his predecessors. But when the 989 prototype is sitting in a dusty corner of the R&D centre and you come up with the Panamerargh then I can’t help thinking Harm Lagaay took all the good marker pens with him when he retired from the Porsche design studios. If Porsche had swallowed some fiscal brave pills and launched Dr Bez’s four-door 911-look V8 saloon in the early ’90s would it have saved the company or finished it off?

    1. The 989 prototype, however pretty, would have been far from practical and therefore incapable of imposing itself as an alternative to the established pluto-barges.

  2. Rumour has it that Walter de’ Silva was appalled by what he saw when he first laid eyes on the 991 in the aftermath of VAG’s turning the tables on Porsche. So if we believe this hearsay, the 991 as we know it is the result of a de’ Silva-instigated last-minute facelift.

    But since the 991’s unveiling, Porsche’s styling design has certainly upped its game. The Boxster is the most appealing it’s ever been and the Macan – love it or loathe it – is the most competently styled SUV Porsche’s come up with thus far. Is this the result of VAG/de’ Silva’s influence? Or can Mauer finally continue the kind of good work he used to deliver at Saab, now that Wendelin Wiedeking and his Westphalian tastes have left the building? Questions, questions…

  3. What strikes me when reading articles like this one is how reluctant people generally are to accept unusual shapes or proportions. The Panamera might not be as lithe and purposeful as some would like it to be, but its far from being a monstrosity, and I would even go as far as saying that it has its merits from certain angles, in a classical (call it dated if you wish) kind of way.

    1. I think I can agree with you about it appealing from certain angles. As Eóin says, the best angle is when sitting within the car looking outwards. In terms of oddly-proportioned Porsches, I am content with the 928, or that funny old air-cooled one with the big backside, tall windscreen and googly eyes that everyone goes on about. If you stick a bit of fibreglass on the big backside and some loppy-script graffiti along the doors then men who like wearing racing overalls go weak at the knees apparently. But I haven’t read Octane for ages so that might have changed.

  4. Odd that Porsche were so hellbent on applying 911 design cues to incompatible forms, when their back catalogue includes many design classics of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps Porsche themselves twigged to this, with the rear of the Macan looking quite a bit like the 928. That the styling of the Panamera came out of the oven half baked is likely more attributable to there being too many cooks on the Porsche board, than Mauer’s skill as a designer. The arrival of Walter de’ Silva as a top down design chief likely gave the styling department a greater voice at board level, and their output improved thereafter.

  5. Not entirely tangentially, for a while now I have been wondering what an F Type saloon would look like (mirroring the genesis of the XJ from the E Type). Well as per usual, someone on the internet has (nearly) beat me to it:

    Incidentally, the website of the fellow who made this rendering is worth a browse:

    http://www.theophiluschin.com

    1. The F-Type concept looks well enough with the proviso that it looks like the only people who’d appreciate the practicality would be 8 year olds who are too self-important to climb in past the front seats. Mind you, the new Panamera certainly looks like a driver’s car, if the definition is that you’d rather be in the front than squeezed in the back.

      I looked at is site and you have to admire someone with a catchy name who’s willing to spend their time coming up with a rendering of what a hatchback version of the Chevrolet Cruze would look like.

  6. I agree with Laurent’s comments, and I’ve actually grown quite fond of the current version. Possibly the silhouette of the next Panamera is less contentious that the current, but it’s also less distinctive. And is it at the expense of rear headroom? And the side glass on the new version is less cohesive now the third window is in the C pillar. All in all I’m glad I bought that secondhand Cube instead of holding out for the new Panamera.

  7. Proportion-wise, the old Panamera is truly a disaster, but judging from the spy photos the update doesn’t address that very well. I guess the rendering below will never become reality.

    1. The rear is lifted straight from the Panamera Shooting Brake Concept. It’s also reminiscent of the treatment on the latest 911 with the light strip, so I think in terms of consistency it’s also a win.

    1. Kajetan, thanks for stopping by. Looking at the photo above, I’m inclined to agree with you. Porsche, like all the great brands are slaves to their heritage – this over-reliance clearly hobbling the Panamera. I simply cannot believe that’s what Mauer’s team had originally in mind.

      As for the talented Mr.Chin’s undoubtedly handsome renders, a three volume Porsche? Good heavens, the brand faithful would have apoplexy on the spot.

    2. The A7’s Kamm tail is due to go with the facelift. Apparently it doesn’t clinic well. Shame, as I think it is one of Audi’s more interesting rear treatments.

    3. Bloody clinics! I assume that they are more sophisticated than they used to be, but maybe not. In any case, I am pissed off every time I read of a bunch of visual illiterates being invited to an early evening cocktail party and asked their opinions on headlamp design and colour.

    4. Hi, Eóin, Chris, Sean – finally a website commenting on car design with expertise, quite often (yes, I’m looking at you, CarDesignNews) and not only basing on official press releases (this would be a burn on CarBodyDesign). I’ve spent the whole night yesterday reading it : )
      As for the renders – it wouldn’t hurt to blend the main volume with the boot to make it less heart-attack-inducing, I’ll try and mock something up in Photoshop if/when I have the time : )

  8. That’s a nice piece of work Kajetan, and yes, it’s definitely more Porsche, but I suspect not where Mauer is going with Pan-Am-2. Perhaps its forthcoming younger sibling (to be shown in prototype form at Frankfurt I believe) will embody something of this aesthetic?

    Very pleased you like the site by the way; thanks for your contributions, I hope you’ll stick around.

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