The power struggle is over within Porsche.
No, no, not the epic, ego-fuelled duel between the Porsche and Piech families. But before going on to discuss the "other" power struggle, we simply must spend a moment on the spectacular tale of how one German car company lost its independence to another. The creative geniuses behind the late Dynasty TV show could not have dreamt up this one. In the end, Volkswagen's Ferdinand Piech emerged the victor, leaving former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking with nothing but a hefty €50-million severance package to stanch the bleeding caused by falling on his sword. Wiedeking's daring gamble to engineer a takeover of VW by Porsche collapsed under an Everest of debt - too much for Porsche to manage alone in this global recession.
VW and Porsche will merge, become integrated, by 2011, with VW the senior partner and Piech protégé, CEO Martin Winterkorn, running the whole shebang. The Porsche and Piech families will remain the largest shareholders in the company to arise from the combination of VW and Porsche SE. Meanwhile, the Gulf state of Qatar will be the third-largest investor in the combined company.
See what I mean about a Dynasty -like power struggle? Legendary German families battling it out for control of arguably the world's most famous sports car company on the one hand, and Germany's largest car company on the other. That would be the same VW aiming to become the largest car company in the world by 2018.
The mind boggles, the imagination runs amok. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when all these deals and duels were occurring last month.
Business feuds are one thing, but business/family feuds are something else entirely - and certainly more nasty.
In any case, that power struggle took longer to conclude than an earlier one that went right to the heart of what Porsche was, is and hopes to become. That's the struggle that is really over.
Hard as it is to believe, Porsche's Weissach research centre has developed not only a gasoline-electric version of the Porsche Cayenne SUV, but also a diesel-powered one. So you see, the power struggle is over. Porsche is no longer a gasoline-only car maker.
But think of it: A Porsche hybrid? A diesel? Both to be sold in a Porsche SUV? Astonishing.
In fact, the diesel Cayenne went on sale earlier this year in Europe and now accounts for 60 per cent of Cayenne sales in Germany.
This is Porsche? This is the Porsche that built its reputation with flawless, lightweight sports cars winning races all over the world. Porsche spent the better part of the last 60 years building slick rides and racing cars. Now it's getting into the hybrid and diesel SUV business.
Yes, of course the sports cars are still important, but the SUV makes Porsche more money and accounts for some 50 per cent of all sales.
And we haven't even mentioned the Panamera due in showrooms later this year. It's a four-door grand touring car with a hatchback at the rear. A hybrid version is expected within a year to 18 months, too.
The Cayenne S Hybrid will go on sale next year, says project chief engineer Michael Leiters. He's a charming, balding, bespectacled fellow who has the air of an engineering genius about him. The hybrid, well, he's darn proud of it. Nothing from his former career as an academic seems to be quite as satisfying as this.
He talks about the elegant engineering solution and he points out how the Cayenne S Hybrid will achieve about 33 per cent better fuel economy than the V-8-powered Cayenne S.
Officials numbers aren't out there, but Porsche engineers say they are averaging less than 9.0 litres/100 kilometres in their own testing. Expect pricing to be in the range of the Cayenne S V-8 - about $75,000.
The hybrid should be just as fast as the V-8, too - at least most of the time. Performance in Canada, and in every other cold-weather place in the world, will be compromised somewhat by the limitations of the nickel metal-hydride battery pack. These batteries don't like cold weather all that much and they're not very keen on the hot and steamy kind, either.
Today in the City of Angels it's a stinking-hot 40 degrees Celsius and smoke from hundreds of nearby fires billows into the sky not very far away. Leiters seems just a little bit concerned about keeping those batteries cool in the prototype we're driving on famed Mulholland Drive. It is, after all, one of only two in the world and therefore worth millions.
Leiters isn't really hot and bothered by the weather, though. He's pretty confident in what he and the team have accomplished. The cooling issues are no longer a problem, he says.
The engineering chief, here from Germany to give a briefing to a handful of journalists, is thrilled to explain the intricacies of Porsche's own hybrid architecture. It's an elegant breakthrough, he says, and better than the immensely complicated arrangement put together by a consortium of General Motors, BMW and Daimler.
He likes the system in the Porsche SUV better than the one Lexus has in the RX 450h, too. The Porsche has one electric motor and a proper all-wheel-drive system, while Lexus uses three separate electric motors to distribute power to the four wheels.
Interestingly enough, the gas engine in the Porsche is actually an Audi-sourced, supercharged, 3.0-litre V-6 with direct fuel injection (333 horsepower). The nifty bit is what he calls a "disengagement" clutch that is connected to the engine's flywheel. It allows the gas engine and electric drive to work together or separately.
A 38-kW (52-hp) permanent-magnet electric motor/generator provides the electric drive. It functions as a starter/generator and is mounted between the engine and a new eight-speed automatic transmission. Also downstream of the hybrid unit is the lockup torque converter.
The nickel metal-hydride battery pack is under the load floor in back; it's rated at 288 volts and 38kW. A "Hybrid Manager," the computer brain, runs the whole system. Porsche says it might be the most powerful computer ever used in a vehicle.
If this sounds familiar, it should be. Honda does something similar with its Integrated Motor Assist in the Insight and Civic hybrids. Only in the Porsche, the drive train runs north-south or longitudinal, while in the Honda, it's east-west or transverse.
So here's what all this can do. In electric-only mode, the Cayenne S Hybrid can do up to 50 km/h or so. In go-fast mode, using the electric drive and the gas engine, the hard numbers are astonishing: 374 hp, 406 lb-ft of torque and a 0-100 km/h time of 6.5 seconds. Top speed: 238 km/h.
A big chunk of the fuel savings comes from the stop/start function. Naturally, that means the engine accessories - power steering, air conditioning, brakes - are electrically powered. Moreover, Porsche says its system allows the Cayenne to retain its towing capacity and conventional all-wheel-drive system.
One other thing. Leiters points out that this big Cayenne - all 2,370 kg of it - is able to "sail" down the highway using very little energy at all. The design allows the system to decouple the engine completely, or as Leiters says, go "sailing."
Essentially, the Cayenne Hybrid can freewheel without any engine compression or electric motor drag. That disengagement clutch disengages the gas and electric motors.
You might call it coasting, but that's not quite so sexy as sailing. In any case, the hybrid can do this up to speeds of nearly 140 km/h, using virtually no energy at all. That is, the gas engine shuts down and the electric drive essentially goes to sleep. When needed, the gas engine re-starts in 300 milliseconds and the re-engagement is smooth.
Porsche, then, isn't fighting the onset of hybrid-mania. It's not a gas-engine-only company now.
Moreover, while Porsche gets the hybrid technology first, and led in its development, other brands in the VW group will share. A hybrid Audi Q7 is coming, as is a hybrid VW Touareg.
So not only is the power struggle over powertrains over, Porsche is sharing its technology within the VW group.
What a shock. But we're getting a lot of those lately in the car business.