“With the 911 there is always the discussion of how far you can go,” says softly spoken Michael Mauer, head of style at Porsche (see opposite). He’s one of the key men in determining why the new 991 looks and functions as it does.
Although he’s been at the design helm since 2004, this is the first Porsche model that Mauer has been responsible for from start to finish, given the long gestations of new projects that are standard in the car industry. He oversaw 90 per cent of the Panamera and the second-generation Cayenne, too, but the 911 Carrera is the icon. The world was watching and he knew it, but his strategy – in the context of a model sometimes accused of evolving too slowly – was a pretty bold one.
Speaking at the 2011 Detroit show back in January, Mauer was remarkably bullish and confident, declaring: “The headline for me when designing the next-generation 911 was first of all, and at first glance, to be able to tell that it is a Porsche 911 and also to be able to tell that it is the new one. There will be no doubt, I am convinced. The 991 boasts different proportions and new elements.”
True to his word, the 991 is, unquestionably, a distinctively different 911. He’s done his homework and after diplomatically saying that his favourite 911s are ‘all of them’, he confesses that some have influenced him more than others, the 993 in particular. “All the predecessors influenced this design, even the 996, which has been so heavily criticised. The 996 became softer, which was a necessary step. I might have some different opinions on the execution but it was a very bold step. But the 993 plays a particularly important role as, from my point of view, the typical Porsche design language, with its convex and concave surfaces started with the 993. Up to the 993 there were not too many changes, and then the 993 got new wings and new wing flares, so that was an important move.”
The new proportions are subtle but evident when explained and scrutinised. One of the key differences can be seen in side profile. The car looks longer and is, but only by 56mm. What makes it look extended is the proportionally significant 100mm increase in the wheelbase and shorter overhangs at the front (by 32mm) and at the back (by 12mm). The Carrera’s roof is fractionally lower too by 7mm and in the Carrera S by 6mm. Overall the car is just under 4.5 metres (4,491mm) long with a width of 1,808mm. So why the bigger wheelbase? “You could say in a way that today’s 911 has perfect proportions,” Mauer begins. “Therefore we put a lot of time into this first phase to find out where we would like to change and modify, but there were other departments who had their requirements as well. The design department and the racing guys both wanted a longer wheelbase, the design guys for better proportions and the suspension guys to have better performance. We also both wanted more track width at the front and bigger-sized wheels so it was really a case of joined forces.”
Mauer also talks of a new “precision line” – a subtle crease that runs along the edge of the roofline and that appears to get sharper as it moves to the rear of the car, as he says, “to the point where the power is applied.”
The changes at the front of the 991 are more subtle but worth studying. Perhaps the first things to hit the eye are the bolder air intakes, sliced through with twin black, rather than body-coloured, blades on each side. Early internet forum reports questioned the angularity of this design detail as being out of step with previous 911s. It’s a reaction Mauer finds puzzling.
“I’m surprised about this perception,” he frowns. “What I admit is that we tried to give the sculpture more tension, so it looks more sporty and athletic and that we introduced lines that give the whole appearance more precision, but still sticking to the typical design language and surface treatment that compared to competitors is pretty soft. But, yes, some of the elements are less soft, in order to give the car rather more character.”
What does he say to those who think there are shades of Audi R8 in those intakes? “In that case, I would have to say put an Audi R8 next to the new 911 and then check it,” Mauer boldly asserts, before adding, “there are a limited amount of design cues in this world, but I would say this is still a 911. If you look at the air intakes from Porsche we always have had these little blades and we always have this three-dimensional depth, always with two or three holes. So I would consider this as very ‘typical Porsche’ in the new layout, and would rather ask why other companies are basically copying us.”
The other key change in the front face of the 991 is in the treatment of the headlamps. Some commentators have suggested that the 991’s lights are more upright than those on the 997 but Mauer disagrees, arguing that this visual perception comes from them being ‘more three-dimensional’. He continues: “If you look at the glass it’s become a more integrated part of the shape of the wing, so it’s really a continuation, rather than if you look at the predecessor where it’s a little bit like you have the wing and then the lights are shaved off.”
But doesn’t this three-dimensionality affect the driver’s ability to see the car’s edges in order to place the car more easily? Mauer thinks not: “In the end I believe it is a fair compromise. One of the nice things about Porsche, and especially the 911, is that you can use the wings as a means of orientation. We didn’t want to become too fast or to hide it, but still from the side we intended to have a fast line and not to go back to it looking very upright.”
Completing the new facial picture, the windscreen has become more convex and more raked in angle to add to the sense of sportiness and a more coupe-like window graphic.
Looking around the car in detail another design change that becomes apparent is the moving of the mirrors from the triangle behind the A-pillar to lower down onto the door panel. Mauer explains the reasons for the change: “When I joined the company and we started to work on the Panamera and Cayenne [MkII] I always thought sports cars should have the mirror on the shoulder rather than in this triangle. Second, it has advantages for visibility so I thought it should be the same on the 911 – which is the symbol of a sports car for our company.” As to exactly why they had been in that triangle previously, Mauer is not sure, although he claims the ability of the mirrors to be firmly affixed and stay clearly visible at speeds above 185mph without shaking could have had something to do with the old approach. Either way, he’s happy about the new look, as from the front “it emphasises the width of the car and makes it look a little bit lower,” he enthuses. Regarding the size of the mirrors, though, Mauer admits they’re similar to the 997’s, a detail that is less desirable: “We’re trapped into all kinds of legislation, for a designer they are way too big,” he concedes.
There is also controversy regarding the back of the car, with its much slimmer LED lights and cut lines in new places. Mauer cites influence from the 993 and the original 911 for this look, and likes this part of the new car best: “My favourite part of the car is the back. The main change happened there. The dynamic guys needed a wider, variably extending rear spoiler that reduces, therefore, there’s this cut-line that allows this to be really wide. I admit that this cut-line going through the rear wing is not a designer’s favourite, but form follows function.”
An edge has been integrated between the rear lights, Mauer points out: “integrating the spoiler into the whole sculpture.”
This exterior is underpinned with a body featuring aluminium-steel composite construction. Porsche says this has helped reduce weight by up to 45kg over the old model. The new Carrera has a driverless (DIN) weight of 1,380kg (and 1,400kg for the PDK), while the Carrera S adds 15kg to hit 1,395kg (plus another 20kg with PDK to reach 1,415kg).
Finally, from a design execution standpoint, what’s so interesting about the 991 is that it’s the first all-new Porsche that Mauer seems to have been able to fully stamp his mark on, both in design and stylistic terms. He tacitly seems to concede that pushing through ideas when he first joined Porsche was much harder due to internal scepticism of his knowledge of the brand. As he sees it, the jury was out on his ability to understand and design proper Porsches as he candidly recounts: “I felt there were people who were listening but also very critical; ‘Is that guy already really a Porsche-minded person?’ they seemed to be saying. And also, ‘Can we trust him? Do we know more about the brand than him?’ On the Panamera I felt my influence was not as strong as it was on the Cayenne MkII and the new 911.”
He’ll certainly have a chance to wield this new influence if – and it seems likely – his 991 becomes a critical success but don’t expect to see this designer go off the rails with style over the content as a result of the potential new leeway, as he concludes: “If you have cars that can go well over 185mph you definitely have different requirements to many other brands. It’s a completely different world above 170mph so you have to respect and accept the phrase ‘form follows function’ for such cars. Whenever you get to the point where you are asked if you need more on the design side or the engineers want a bigger air intake or whatever, I admit sometimes it’s tough to push further for the more stylish solution.”
On the 991, a good balance seems to have been struck. Aesthetically, it looks new and bold enough to be distinguishable from previous 911s but still unmistakably a 911. Whether it still drives like one is a verdict for another day.
Who is Michael Mauer?
Mauer grew up in the southern part of Germany in the Black Forest, near the Swiss border. He got his first break in car design through his father: “I was always interested in cars even when I was little and also enjoyed art and drawing at school. My father found out there was a profession that combined art, drawing and cars. He organised an internship at Mercedes-Benz and just said ‘try it’. For me that was paradise; I was 19 or 20 at the time. My dad was a doctor in a Sanatorium, in a private hospital with big business people who came to recover. One of them was the PR director for Mercedes-Benz and he was just talking to him and searching for a solution for his son because he was a little bit desperate that I didn’t want to study medicine.”
He also studied transportation design at Pforzheim College and then started properly at Mercedes. His breakthrough car was the first-generation SLK and the 2003 SL (MkV) before heading to Smart. There he created the acclaimed Roadster Coupe and then joined Saab where his highlight was the spectacular 2001 9X concept. Mauer moved to Porsche as head of style in 2004. In those seven years Mauer has been responsible for designing ‘most of’ the controversial Panamera sports saloon (some of the work was already decided before he arrived), the tough job of smartening up the Cayenne SUV for its 2010 second-generation launch, plus the 2010 918 Spyder concept and 2011 RSR racing hardtop version of the latter.
A keen skier in his spare time – he competed at county level in his youth – he also likes surfing and cycling and collecting expensive watches, particularly by IWC. One of his latest is an IWC Ingenieur Big Chronograph Stainless Steel.
This was taken from issue 80, for all Total 911 back issues visit www.imagineshop.co.uk/