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