When Porsche launched the last new generation of its 911, called the 991, the iconic sports car that defines the brand for many, I couldn't help asking whether that might be the time when the car took the controversial step towards hybridization. However, I was told it wouldn't happen, that the platform wasn't ready, and that everyone would have to wait for the next generation.
Well, at the 2018 LA Auto Show, Porsche unveiled that next generation to the world. It's called the 992, and chief among its changes was a new, eight-speed PDK gearbox. Why a new gearbox with the same number of gears as last time? To provide room for all the internals a hybrid will need. So, then, this must be the generation where the 911 finally gets electrified -- right?
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At the LA Auto Show last week I sat down with Klaus Zellmer, Porsche North American President and CEO, and asked him that very question. His response? "We're prepared," he said, but then went on to say that he wasn't entirely sure that the world was prepared for a 911 hybrid.
"The car is prepared technically to accommodate an electric machine, if needed. Obviously, at the moment, it would add weight, but there might be a situation that some cities actually close down for a combustion engine, and that's why we'd much rather now create all the pre-requisites to fit into the gearbox, a hybrid module, and then to make it happen if we need to."
Hybridizing a car isn't a simple matter of slapping on an electric motor and calling it a day. A car's transmission necessarily becomes a far more complex system, capable of distributing power across both the internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors. This means a larger, heavier gearbox -- something not necessarily desirable for a sports car.
However, it also can mean more power and, in this new era of turbocharged everything, that extra power can help to address one of the major constraints of forced induction: laggy throttle response. Indeed, Porsche has capitalized on this in the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid to create a car that is not only more efficient than non-hybrid versions, but one that is significantly quicker. It was a conscious decision on Porsche's part that's paying huge dividends.
The question is whether that formula will work with 911, a car with a very different purpose. Klaus plays coy when I ask him if that time is now, saying, "From our customers point of view, we see massive demand for Panamera for the plug-in hybrid, and now for the Cayenne. For the 911 it's a different story. We don't really hear loud voices asking for that."
But when it comes, will the hybrid be the new top-shelf 911 like the fastest Panamera is now a hybrid? "It would be power-enhancing," Zellmer said. "Our hybrid principle is that we take the performance output plus the possibility to have, at a low-rev environment, a high-torque, electric machine helping you to combine the two and increase the power output. But obviously a really pleasant side effect would be the bigger efficiency and potentially being on electric drive mode for 30 miles if need-be."
Zelmer goes on to tell me that he's been driving a Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid personally for the past six months, covering some 1,100 miles. Of those, 860 were covered fully electrically. "My mileage is something like 80 mpg," he tells me, which ain't bad for a 680-horsepower car.
It isn't just the transmission that needs to change, of course. You also need to find room for all those batteries. "We have space for that," Zellmer said. "You lose some of trunk space, either in the front or where the two-plus-two seat concept might suffer a bit. But that's all possible. If we need to do that, then we can make it happen."
In other words, Porsche is ready for a hybrid 911. Are you?