Monthly Archives: May 2015

Porsche Opens New North American HQ

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The next time you find yourself flying into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, take a look at the northeast corner of the airport. Just 200 yards to the east of  runway 26R sits the former location of Ford’s Atlanta Assembly plant, which shut down in 2006. About five years ago, Porsche started the long process of building its new North American headquarters on the unused space. One Porsche Drive (its new address) is a monument to all things Porsche. There you’ll find a groovy-looking building with sports cars speeding on an adjacent racetrack. What you are seeing is Porsche North America’s new $100 million headquarters and Porsche Experience Center, which opened their doors to the public this week. “Today we celebrate a significant milestone in the history of Porsche as we expand our footprint in the United States and reaffirm our commitment to the state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta,” Matthias Mueller, president and CEO of Porsche, said. “We are investing more than ever before, heightening visibility for the Porsche brand in the US and worldwide.”

The U.S. represents one third of Porsche’s worldwide vehicle sales, a number that the company says has steadily increased over the last few years. But Porsche is hoping to up the ante even more, with the new $100 million, over-the-top headquarters. “We built all of this to allow consumers to really experience the love affair we have with cars,” said Detlev von Platen, president and CEO of Porsche North America. “We are manufacturing sports cars in Germany. We have two factories. Here, we are manufacturing experiences,” he said. “(We’re) offering to visitors to the corporation a different way to know about Porsche to experience to feel, to smell, to listen to our cars and to learn about our history.”

Porsche North America has called Atlanta home since 1998. But with the new 27-acre facility, Porsche has created an opportunity to connect with current and prospective buyers. In fact, the new Porsche compound is the largest investment the company has ever made outside Germany.

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So what do the new HQ and Porsche Experience Center offer? How about a high-speed test track. And there’s an off-road course, where drivers can get a little muddy. Inside, you’ll find a gallery of classic Porsches from the company’s illustrious past, such as a Brumos Racing Porsche and classic Porsche 356 Speedster. Those interested in fine dining can drop by Restaurant 356. On the business end, the facility features 13,000 square feet of business and meeting space. Ultimately, the best part is that you don’t even need to be a Porsche owner to experience the awesomeness of the new facility. In the Human Performance Center, where fitness experts can evaluate your physical strength, stamina, nutritional status, even your hydration levels. The Performance Center offers a menu of options, from a 90-minute assessment all the way up to a 12-month executive plan. The staff is from Exos, an extreme fitness company that trains NFL athletes, the German football team, and Navy Seals. Already there’s a four-month waiting list for driver instruction and a three-month wait for fitness analysis.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says the building also serves as a symbol. “Ninety-five million people are going to look out their window and see the crest of Porsche Cars of North America, and it’s going to associate the city of Atlanta with the best.”

Clearly, Porsche Experience Center also is designed to be a revenue generator for the company. The 1.6-mile road course actually loops through the heart of the main building. Consumers can reserve time to test-drive any of Porsche’s six models. And for a fee ($300 to $750 a day, depending on the car), you can get professional driving instruction from one of the 40 instructors, and even test Cayenne and Macan SUVs on the steep, technical and muddy off-road course.

Inside, customers can custom-spec their new car, have a vintage car restored, enjoy some of the most important race cars on the planet in the Classic Car Center, and book a meal in the high-end Restaurant 356. There’s a bank of latest-technology racing simulators to play with, and a store where you can buy everything from fan gear all the way up to a $15,000 Porsche Design purse. The center’s size will also allow Porsche to rent out space for private events and business conferences—yet another new revenue stream for the company.

Porsche’s Atlanta experience center: public test drives in June

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ATLANTA — Beginning in June, potential Porsche buyers can test drive the brand’s cars and crossovers at the company’s new $100 million U.S. headquarters and customer experience center in Atlanta.

Porsche is unveiling the new facility, dubbed One Porsche Drive, today. It is the company’s biggest investment outside of Germany. In addition to putting all of Porsche’s U.S. operations under one roof, the new center gives the brand a place to demonstrate the “smell, touch, feel” of Porsche vehicles, said Porsche Cars North America CEO Detlev von Platen. He expects 30,000 people to visit annually.

“It’s all about the experience,” von Platen told Automotive News. “The visitors who come here will experience a brand and our products in a way they have never done before.”

Custom packages

The center has a 1.6-mile test track and six different driving modules, including a handling circuit, off-road course, low-friction circle and a kick plate that mimics sliding. Visitors will pay from $300 to $750 for driving packages, such as one that allows them to compare the Porsche 911 GT3 against the 911 Turbo.

Porsche also will design custom packages for visitors, who can book the time through a dealer or directly online. Customers will have the option of bringing their own vehicle to the track. They also can have their new vehicle delivered at the center for an additional fee.

Employees began moving into the offices in January. More than 400 will work at the site.

One Porsche Drive is located south of Atlanta’s downtown just a few minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. That location will make it easier for customers from all over the country to get to the facility, von Platen said. A 918 Spyder, Porsche’s $1 million supercar, already was delivered onsite to a customer a week ago, he said.

Events center

The airport proximity suits another purpose of the facility: to be a conference and events center. Beginning this month, Porsche has booked meetings for a variety of companies and other entities, including nonprofit organizations. They can rent meeting rooms or even entire sections of the building, which houses a fine-dining restaurant, café, a museum of classic Porsches and a vehicle restoration center.

Other features include driving simulators, a custom vehicle design studio and what Porsche calls a human performance center: a gym with specialty equipment to evaluate visitors’ fitness levels and trainers to customize nutrition and fitness programs.

Porsche will open a second U.S. experience center outside of Los Angeles in mid-2016. The company also has such tracks in England and Germany and is building one in China.

Fueling growth

Porsche approved the investment in the facility in 2010 when the company’s U.S. sales were just starting to recover from a recessionary plunge. Rebounding from a 2009 low of 19,696, the brand sold 47,007 new vehicles in the U.S. last year. The company should break the 50,000-vehicle mark this year, von Platen said, three years earlier than Porsche’s deadline for that target.

Von Platen and Porsche are betting the investment pays off with more loyal existing customers and sales from new buyers who end up purchasing vehicles after a driving experience at the track.

“We want to have an open space for the public,” he said. “We really believe in the growth of this market.”

Red Bull F1 future rests on Audi

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Former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo says Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz will walk away from Formula 1 unless he can convince Audi to join the sport.

Red Bull Racing has repeatedly threatened to leave Formula 1 after struggling to be competitive, in part due to the problems with the Renault power unit.

The French manufacturer has also admitted it is considering its future in the sport, and Red Bull has suggested it could be forced out of F1 if Renault leaves, as it would be left without an engine supplier.

Amid speculation linking the Volkswagen group with a move to F1, Montezemolo revealed Mateschitz is trying to lure Audi to join the field.

Speaking with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Montezemolo said Red Bull has “imploded” this year, adding that he thinks Ferrari has been lucky to regain its form while others have struggled.

“I honestly think they [Ferrari] have been a bit lucky: This year, apart from Mercedes, they have no other rivals,” Montezemolo said.

“Williams has not improved and Red Bull has imploded – I know that Mateschitz is thinking of selling – ‘I either convince Audi to enter or I’m leaving,’ a mutual friend has told me – and McLaren is in crisis…

“In short, Ferrari starts every race with a podium in its pocket. But luck is useless if you don’t take advantage of it.”

Hybrid engine a mistake

Montezemolo also admitted he regrets the decision not to have blocked a move to V6 turbo engines when Ferrari was not prepared enough to be a match for the dominant Mercedes.

“Hybrid engines are the future, but in hindsight it would have been better to oppose them,” he said.

The Italian, who left Ferrari halfway through last season, said he realised early that the team’s engine was not good, and ordered former team boss Stefano Domenicali to switch focus to 2015, a decision he reckons it is now paying dividends.

“I called Domenicali and we started working immediately on 2015,” he said. “We were confident about the chassis: we were back in our new, efficient wind tunnel after years of exile in Toyota’s.”

He added: “But I knew we had worked well ahead of 2015. So the moment when Vettel crossed the finish line at Sepang, I had confirmation that I had not only left a healthy company, but also a competitive team.”

Porsche patents variable-compression-ratio engine: boosts power & efficiency

 

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Porsche has received a patent on a new form of the variable-compression-ratio engine. This would be especially useful with turbocharged engines that today run at lower compression ratios, to avoid over-stressing the engine when the turbocharger is forcing more air into the combustion chambers. The patent was sought by Porsche’s huge consulting arm along with Porsche client Hilite International, suggesting the engine technology might be offered to other automakers if and when it’s made commercially viable.

Why variable compression ratio matters

Today’s gasoline-engine cars compress the outside air to about a tenth its original volume, a 10:1 ratio, inside each cylinder. Compress it more and you get detonation – also called knock or ping – before the spark plug ignites the air-fuel mixture at or near top dead center, when the piston is at the top of its travel.

Technology has raised compression ratios to 11:1 or 12:1 and as high as 13:1 in Mazda SkyActiv cars. Premium-grade gasoline allows for higher compression ratios than regular. Knock sensors can adjust ignition timing to avoid detonation. Still, design engineers have to back off on the base compression ratio when there’s a turbocharger involved, which affects efficiency at low rpm, which reduces mpg in the vehicle and its desirability to the buyer. It also makes the car feel like a pig when your first tromp on the throttle (turbo lag). Enter the variable-compression-ratio engine and Porsche’s new technology.

How Porsche does it: adjustable length connecting rods

Porsche and Hilite conceived a way to adjust the apparent length of the connecting rods, the metal arms that connect to the crankshaft and drive the pistons up and down. A solenoid allows small oil-pressure-driven rods and an eccentric adjuster to raise or lower the bearing supporting the piston. The patent diagram appears to show a high and low position currently, not a variable height.

The car starts off with the piston in the high position. When the turbo begins injecting pressurized air, the piston drops to the low position. That reduces the compression ratio momentarily, allowing for more turbocharger boost and more power. The Porsche-Hilite design appears to be comparatively simple, at least compared to other variable-compression-ratio efforts that date back a century.

Development still needed

From patent to engine in production could be several years. Even a relatively simple design needs to be tested for durability and quirks that might show up outside the lab. Still, engines of the last 25 years have become increasingly more complex without any falloff in basic reliability. Hilite International makes components used in variable valve timing controls (VVT) that run reliably despite their complexity.

Since Porsche is a consulting group as well as an automaker, and in some years in the past made more money off consulting, this is likely to be a technology with the possibility of being adopted throughout the industry on small engines — just as Mitsubishi’s balancer shafts are now common on almost every four-cylinder engine. These designs also show that the gasoline internal combustion engine will continue to be the dominant powerplant in passenger cars.

Volkswagen’s New Connected Car App on Apple Watch

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Volkswagen today announced an Apple Watch app that will bring most of the features of the company’s Car-Net mobile app to a user’s wrist.

The app will allow customers to lock and unlock a car’s doors (on 2016-and-later models), open and close windows and the sunroof, provide a map of the vehicle’s current parked location, and even set off a minor alarm when locating the vehicle is proving tiresome. Interestingly, the app will also bring over Car-Net’s feature of tracking speed and set boundary notifications, allowing parents to monitor a child’s top driving speed and send notifications if they break from a pre-set geofencing boundary area right to the Apple Watch.

The Volkswagen Apple Watch app also brings the ability to check fuel on gasoline and TDI Clean Diesel engines and even the charge on the all-electric e-Golf. The full suite of Car-Net features is available on “select trims” of the 2014 and later Beetle, CC, Eos, Jetta, Passat and Tiguan models and on all trims of 2015 and later Golf, Golf GTI, Golf R, Golf SportWagen and e-Golf models.