I recently read an article on Top Gear where the author, through an interview with Lutz Meschke, deputy chairman of the board, hinted the next Cayman and Boxster would be electric.
If there ever were two models that would test the worlds appetite for an electric sports car from a major brand, surely the Cayman and Boxster fit the bill. With the Cayman 718 having ‘suffered’ the last few years with a highly criticised engine sound from its four cylinder engine, the move to electric may perhaps be a welcome change. If you can’t make a good sound, then don’t make any sound at all, right?
Here come the electric cars
The push for electric seems unabated. Rightly or wrongly it is seen as the panacea for all the worlds environmental or pollution woes, an argument which is far too complex, far too controversial to be had here.
What we can assume is manufacturers will follow the money, and the money is where the people are, and the people believe electric powered vehicles are better for the planet.
From this, we can safely say that the next Cayman and Boxster may well be fully electric.
Who are the buyers of Caymans and Boxsters and would they care that it’s electric? Of the majority I suspect not, as styling and status maketh these cars with a smaller minority of actual enthusiasts who would care about handling balance near the limit, steering feel, and to some degree sound and vibration.
The loss of two cylinders in the 718 didn’t seem to dent the sales figures so sound is perhaps not the sole determining factor for buyers as much as we would like to think. The world’s obsession with newer, shinier objects and leasing agreements probably trumps any nostalgia in that regard.
All wheel drive
There is a concern with how electric vehicles will get their power to the ground in a sports car. As efficient as all wheel drive vehicles may be at harnessing power and supplying tremendous grip, it’s the delicacy and balance of a rear wheel drive car which often brings huge rewards for drivers. Porsche have always prided themselves on sophisticated chassis’s delivering unrivalled feel and balance.
Yet the way battery powered vehicles have been architected in order to take advantage of lower centres of gravity and to power each wheel means rear wheel drive may be the least efficient, perhaps illogical way of propelling an electric vehicle.
As superior as battery powered vehicles will be with their mass pushed to the floor this again is a one solution fits all approach. Mid-engine dynamics will be a thing of the past and Porsche will soon have a huge challenge on their hands convincing 911 fanatics the ‘engine’ is no longer over the rear axle. Or will they succumb to the contrived approach of stuffing the batteries in the back just to satisfy the faithful?
Unlikely. The cost of creating and engineering an inferior bespoke vehicle surely won’t get past the finance and product development department. What’s likely to happen is the engineering and vehicle dynamics team (and software team?) will design some rear bias into the car to make it feel like a 911.
Engagement equals driving pleasure, speed is finite
There’s no doubt that Porsche will deliver a faster and cleaner electric version of the Cayman and Boxster. It will have touch screens everywhere, connect with everything, and be able to charge up in less time than the recently released Taycan. There will be Tron-like lights permeating throughout the cabin and a new design language outside making the existing 718 feel very old hat indeed.
Apparently the marketing department kept all the human factors specialists off the Taycan project…
But will it be fun? Will it return any driving enjoyment? Will it feel different to an electric Golf R which will potentially be just as fast?
As a consumer paying a premium price, what will I get in my electric Cayman that I don’t get in that electric Golf R apart from brand cachet?
Much in the same way as smartphones are struggling to deliver real innovation beyond adding even more camera lenses to the back casing, where and how will electric sports cars engage consumers beyond even faster charging times?
Brands are going to struggle to provide real differentiation beyond anything at the surface level much in the same way most people couldn’t tell you the technical difference between a Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhone. Nor do they really care, and it’s this indifference that will make it increasingly difficult for motoring brands to engage consumers.
It’s all narrowed to the same conclusion for smartphones…
By narrowing usage, segmentation of classes may be consolidated as cars are seen increasingly as utilitarian providers of transport, particularly if automation and subscription takes hold.
If almost all cars use the same ‘flat bed’ of batteries, power all four wheels, provide automation, all the connectivity a teenager could want, all wrapped up in the same design providing the same levels of space, comfort, and storage where is the difference?
Design does the heavy lifting
This leaves much of the heavy lifting to the design of the vehicle to provide something unique in much the same way Apple have used design as a differentiator for decades, an increasingly difficult position as competition lift their game.
Perhaps for vehicles, the design language of the future doesn’t have slats and vents cut through it for cooling. We could see some beautiful new shapes as well as some odd ones defined by practicality.
Sports car renaissance
Will youth see the car as another tech device, just one on a giant scale?
Conceptually an electric car is very similar to a smartphone, the most beloved and treasured device of younger generations. It’s a highly complex and technical ‘device’ powered by a battery—one takes you places physically, the other virtually.
This might be a subtle, unconscious and important factor for consumer ‘buy-in’. The move to electric may actually save the sports car.
However, the next generation won’t know the joy those of us who have grown up with the mechanical wonders of the internal combustion engine, manual gearboxes, the variety and choice available to us. Perhaps we should just ‘get over it’, but it’s not quite as simple as that.
There’s a reason why we have an attachment to, and love these ‘inferior’ products…
There are further existential considerations on another layer to consider, such as human obsolescence. The more we rely on technology to do our work, our chores, and even our pastimes for us the more we render ourselves useless in both mind and body. We need to be useful, we need to use our minds, to think, to be challenged. Is there a perfect balance between man and machine? How much is too much? On one end of the scale you have cars started by hand cranks and double de-clutching, the other end complete level 5 automation. Somewhere in the middle seems about right.
One can only hope manufacturers find a way to preserve the connection between man and machine, the engaging and rewarding effects of skilfully propelling yourself across the earth.
They will still sell bucket loads
Because it will look good, have all the latest tech, and be the latest and most advanced. Those lamenting the loss of the petrol engine will still have the GT4 for now, but most people won’t care. They will have their Insta-worthy sports car to parade around.
One can only hope the variety, freedom, and engagement internal combustion engined cars provide can be translated somehow to electric vehicles. I don’t envy those with the job of making it a reality, but hopefully that responsibility falls in the laps of engineers more so than the marketing department.