Interview with Michael Mauer


Car design is subjective.  So subjective, in fact, that it’s often impossible to get even just a handful of people to agree whether a particular car is merely attractive or not.  Even Formula 1 cars, the most functional of vehicles, have a degree of form nestled somewhere inside their largely scientific exterior. 

One particular design, however, seems to be more contentious than the rest – that of Porsche’s somewhat venerable 911, a car scrutinized bumper to bumper every time a new generation hits the roads.  Is it merely a ‘squashed Beetle’ or a beautiful, teardrop-shaped missile that leaves everything behind in a beautifully crafted wake?  As a result, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the man responsible for the way the new 911 (and Boxster, and Panamera, and 918 Spyder….) looks would be an imposing, even bullish, sort of character with a thick skin and stubbornness to match.

However, on meeting Michael Mauer, Porsche’s Head of Design, it quickly becomes apparent that this it is not the case.  The former Mercedes and Saab designer, on first impression, possesses an easy-going, benign manner that belies the pressure he’s under to design the most successful, and arguably beautiful, sports car the world’s ever known.  Don't be mistaken, Michael Mauer’s no shrinking violet, more an iron fist in a velvet glove.  Green Car Design caught up with him at this year’s Geneva Motor Show.     

Green Car Design : Why design, was it something that you had always wanted to do?

Michael Mauer : Actually, I didn’t know what I should do when I finished school and I didn’t have any plans for the future.  It was my dad who combined my best talents – sketching and a love of cars – and told me that there was a profession called ‘car design’.  So he put it together, found out that you could study this and organized an internship for me.

GCD : At Porsche you’ve got a 5-model core lineup, 6 including the Macan, that share the same design DNA.  Are we going to see Porsche design breaking away or splintering from the current mould?

MM : If you’re talking about big, big change, then the answer is no.  We believe in a strong brand identity and strong product identity and therefore believe that we need a strong design DNA.  I think this is part of the success of Porsche, that they always manage to keep the new models fresh but stick to their brand identity.  If you look at the new Boxster and Carerra, we have introduced a lot of new elements.  When it comes to the surface treatment for example, we have these crisp lines and I strongly believe that we are further developing our design language, but we do it step by step.  We’re a lit bit more progressive on the Panamera and a little bit more evolutionary on the 911, but we won’t do any 180-degree turns.

GCD : Talking of the 911, they’ve always looked very planted on the road; it’s a core characteristic.  Do you think that you’ve finally perfected the width to height ratio?

MM : We have a very clear and defined process with three major steps, and the first step is dealing with the proportions of the car – its basic architecture.  I strongly believe that many car companies underestimate this part of the process and we put a lot of time and effort into this.  The predecessor (997) already had pretty good proportions but since we worked so hard I think we’ve improved them.  Just a few millimetres make such a big difference – a slightly wider track on the front, a little bit lower, and you could say the overall dimensions are almost the same but the impression of the car is completely different.  It’s the same with the Boxster.

GCD : There’s now a very distinctive ridge between the rear spoiler and the rear bumper on the new Boxster. What’s the idea behind this and can we expect to see it on other models in the range?

MM : The superior performance of the new Boxster – with an increase of up to 10 hp as well as being up to 15 per cent more fuel-efficient – presented the designers with a more creative challenge to implement the additional technical requirements, including aerodynamic performance.  We transferred these requirements into design elements like the new rear spoiler concept with an extending wing, which is responsible for the downforce at the rear axle. Our goal was to realize an improvement in aerodynamics in a very attractive way. The rear spoiler is the best example: the integrated separation edge now incorporates the new LED tail lights. This is both a trend-setting and very attractive solution.

GCD :  I think it’s fair to say that Porsche are far more advanced when it comes to green technology than many other manufacturers that offer similar levels of performance.   When designing cars, what considerations do you give to green credentials?

MM : First let me say that we don’t start the design process with the goal: ‘Let’s design a green car’. But, of course, the efficiency idea always was and remains the primary and essential driving force at Porsche when developing a new automobile. And that’s true not only for the design.

GCD :You’re understandably very proud of the 1996 Mercedes SLK, but you’ve penned a few significant designs since, notably the 918 Spyder, what’s your greatest achievement?

MM : Every car I designed, whose development process I joined, was a personal achievement for me and I am very thankful for these very positive experiences I’ve had. Today, the new Porsche Boxster really makes me proud. It is still recognisably a Boxster, but every line and angle has become sharper and more dynamic. Never before in the history of the Porsche Boxster was a change of generation so clearly apparent at first glance.

We worked on the proportions so the new Boxster cuts a very elegant but also muscular silhouette. Another factor contributing to its sportier appearance is that the body is a mere 32 millimetres longer than before, while at the same time the overhang at the front has been reduced by 27 millimetres – with the result the Boxster remains the compact mid-engined roadster it always has been.

GCD : Finally, automotive design is a difficult industry to get into. Do you have any advice for young designers?"

MM : In my opinion, now is the best time for young designers and alumni to make an application. Design gains more importance because it is an eminent reason for buying something - especially in the automotive industry. And we are always in search of young and talented designers. So my advice is: be creative, have visions and surprise us with new and innovative ideas.

UPDATE!

Stuttgart. The Porsche 911 Carrera has been awarded the prestigious “red dot award: product design 2012” for its unique functional and emotional design. The design icon wowed the 30-strong international jury of experts with its unique design language combining innovation and tradition, power and elegance. In the course of the competition, the 911 prevailed against more than 4,500 product designs from 58 countries.

The design team led by chief designer Michael Mauer has succeeded with the new 911 Coupé in writing yet another page in the 911’s success story, now in its 50th year: “With our Style Porsche design process, we ensure that a Porsche 911 evolves in terms of its appearance, while remaining recognisably a 911. At Porsche we use two concepts to achieve this: brand identity and product identity. Brand identity means that a Porsche has to be recognisable as a Porsche at first glance and product identity means that it is immediately apparent which Porsche it is. The design DNA of our products is our most important asset – which is precisely why we are constantly questioning and developing it.” 

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