Ten years old this year, we mark the debut of the phat-rumped Panamera and ask, what does the advent of the Taycan EV mean for the Porsche sedan?
Following one of the most protracted and anti-climactic stripteases in automotive history, Porsche revealed their first ever series-production four-door saloon in 2009. Not the first four-door saloon to be produced by Porsche, mark you; Zuffenhausen having built the (W124-series) 500E for Mercedes-Benz, but certainly the first to bear the proud crest of Stuttgart upon its nose.
The 2009 Panamera was a product of a perceived necessity within the Baden-Württemberg carmaker to diversify to a broader offer as buffer against the ever-shifting fortunes of sports car manufacture, but also viewed by then CEO, the ambitious Wendelin Wiedeking as a means of further strengthening the company’s profitability – then considered the envy of the industry.
Strictly speaking however, the 2003 Cayenne SUV was doing a more than capable job on both fronts, but of course, nobody was sure whether this highly controversial model line would prove a success, and having made several stabs at a luxury saloon in the past, it seemed a logical step to make, especially when a good deal of componentry between both car lines could be shared.
Schemed during the period when Wiedeking was hatching his audacious plan to gain control of the mighty Wolfsburg carmaking collossus, by the time the Panam’ was readied in 2009, not only had the world economy collapsed, but Wiedeking had rather ignominiously and decisively run out of road.
Having already given marque enthusiasts an attack of the screaming vapours with the design for the Cayenne, Porsche stylists, in conjunction with senior management seemed in no mood to loosen the thumbscrews when it came to the Panamera’s style – a rather heavy handed affair which lacked grace or much in the way of flair.
Commonly attributed to current design chief, Michael Mauer, its styling most likely predated his appointment, so even if he did oversee the production design, he’s unlikely to have influenced a single line on the car. Who designed the Panamera then? Alongside Jaguar’s hapless X200 S-Type, the credit goes, in film-making parlance, to Alan Smithee.
Fortunately for Porsche, not only was financial catastrophe averted in the 2009 meltdown – albeit at the cost of being assimilated by the automotive titan they had attempted to control – but the Panamera proved a commercial success, despite there being a strong feeling amongst elements within the Wolfsburg corridors of power that it was a mis-step.
Staggeringly, a VW representative (who we must assume was subsequently taken outside and shot) told The Automobile in October 2009, “These vehicles [Cayenne and Panamera] are too big, too heavy, too thirsty. They damage the brands, send out the wrong message, and are no longer socially acceptable. They will have to bite the dust after the next generation“. Clearly, a change of heart, brought about by the financial crash and the profits both models brought in, salved consciences along the banks of the Mittelandkanal.
But a decade is a very long time in the motor business, and so here we are at Frankfurt 2019, (well some of us are) marking the debut of another ground-breaking Porsche model – its first ever electric vehicle. Not the first electric powered car to bear the Porsche name mark you; Ferdinand himself developing the front-driven Lohner-Porsche Mixte hybrid in 1900, but the first in-house Zuffenhausen EV, based on the acclaimed 2014 Mission E concept.
Enough words have been spilled on the Taycan’s positioning, alleged rivalry and technical specification to rehash it all again here, so instead, we offer the observations of Auto-Didakt’s Christopher Butt, who at least had the benefit of a three-dimensional encounter with Zuffenhausen’s new standard bearer.
While to this author’s eyes the Taycan can appear a little tame – at least when compared with the more dramatic 2014 Mission E, our correspondent was somewhat more impressed.
“Stylistically, Taycan is the first truly convincing Porsche saloon; it’s the first time 911-like proportions have been achieved on a four-door body, owing to its unusual architecture. Mauer and team employed that freedom to great effect, yet it doesn’t feel just like a long ‘elfer – the integrated rear spoiler et al lend it sufficient character of its own.
Thankfully, Porsche decided against the visual cyphers currently employed by the German ‘premiums’ for their EV models. Hence no cheap shiny plastic – Porsche’s designers seemingly understanding that a car’s aesthetics are quite different from those of a mobile phone. Instead, the four separate headlights, pronounced air vents and intricate wheel designs suggest that this isn’t merely a smaller Panamera.
In terms of perceived quality, it’s up to very high standard. There’s none of the feeling of something having to give in order to pay for that expensive EV platform – as it should be, given its pricing. The interior however is very touchscreen-heavy, which is the only let-down. They couldn’t buck all trends, it seems.”
Of course the unspoken question is where this leaves the Panamera, now in its second generation and still holding its own saleswise? The answer to this is probably best expressed as a question. It really depends on how successful the Taycan proves to be and how much of Porsche’s customer-base are prepared to abandon combustion propulsion in favour of electric power.
For now therefore, it appears that Porsche, like most other mainstream OEM carmakers will continue to hedge their bets; the Panamera most likely moving to an entirely hybrid-powered offer aimed at those markets which lack a comprehensive charging infrastructure – which at the present time still amounts to quite a few.
It’s an expensive way of operating, (and for now Porsche can probably afford to do so) but an expedient one for deeply uncertain times. But regardless of one’s position on the subject, only one of these cars is the socially acceptable choice. Which it is to be however, the customer will ultimately decide.