I just drove the Porsche Taycan, and though I can’t give you a full review until later, I can say what the Porsche Taycan’s PR Manager told me at dinner about Tesla’s Nürburgring record attempts and Elon Musk’s Porsche Taycan-related tweets. As he pointed out, Tesla has helped Porsche more than it hurt it.
By now you’re probably all aware that, following Porsche’s claim that its new Taycan electric sports sedan had set the Nürburgring lap record for a four-door electric vehicle, Tesla boss Elon Musk went into competitive mode.
The company devoted multiple Model Ss to Germany’s greatest test track to see what they could do. Strangeness ensued. Tesla apparently neglected to book exclusive track time for a record attempt; Musk declared that that the car attempting to set the record was actually a seven-seater featuring a prototype dual rear motor setup called “plaid mode”; a Porsche Taycan drove past the Model S when it apparently broke down during testing; Tesla installed Superchargers at the Nurburgring after reportedly annoying local residents with a loud diesel generator that charged the test car; and ultimately Tesla set a damn impressive unofficial lap time.
Um @Porsche, this word Turbo does not mean what you think it does
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 5, 2019
This all came after Musk jokingly tweeted at Porsche about the Stuttgart-based brand’s use of “turbo” as a name for a vehicle that doesn’t actually contain a turbocharger.
Since I found myself sitting across from the Porsche Taycan’s P.R. manager, Mayk Wienkötter, last week, I had to ask him about all of this. The first thing I wanted to know was what he thought about Elon’s tweets. “Free PR for us,” he told me. “I’m not sure everyone was aware of the Taycan,” he continued, mentioning Musk’s enormous Twitter following.
I also asked whether Porsche planned to respond to Tesla’s recent unofficial lap time, which was set by a pre-production Model S and which undercut the Taycan’s lap by roughly 20 seconds.
Wienkötter said Porsche is a highly competitive brand when it comes to racing, but that it doesn’t plan to make a one-off car just to beat Tesla, as Porsche is focused first and foremost on launching the Taycan. Plus, he said, Porsche wants to make sure its comparing “apples to apples.”
The PR manager said it’s not clear if the Model S that ran the Nürburgring contained standard production-intent components like suspension parts, brakes, cooling, and tires. Plus, he mentioned that he doesn’t know what sacrifices Tesla had to make to score that lap, with Wienkötter specifically mentioning battery longevity.
With that said, if Tesla does release a production vehicle that outdoes the Taycan’s lap, Porsche will respond, with Wienkötter saying: “We will definitely try to give an answer,” before saying: “If another apple is better than our apple, we will have to find an answer.” The manager didn’t mention exactly how Porsche would go about answering. When I asked if Porsche was planning a dual rear-motor Taycan, Wienkötter answered with a negative.
“Turbo S,” he said, “is really the pinnacle of the model,” he said before stating outright that there is no dual motor or high-performance variant of the Taycan currently in the plans. Porsche’s project manager for the Taycan’s high voltage systems, Benjamin Passenberg cited space, weight, and cost as three factors working against a dual rear-motor Taycan.
What about the Porsche Taycan Turbo S? According to Porsche, the model that set the Nürburgring lap record was actually a well-equipped Turbo, which offers less peak power than the Turbo S, specifically in launch control mode. Is it possible that the Turbo S could set a new record or even beat the figure that the Tesla set?
After I asked if the Turbo S could be 20 seconds faster than the Turbo, Wienkötter responded said “Doubt it. Twenty seconds is a lot,” and went on to mention that, though there’s still some room for improvement, the Turbo and Turbo S are positioned really closely, and that “the gap you would gain [with a Turbo S over a Turbo] is not that significant.”
So really, it seems like Porsche is cool with Elon’s tweets since it gives their car more exposure, but they’re not cool with getting beaten by Tesla if that Tesla is an actual production car and not a one-off. For now, it seems, Porsche’s focusing on launching the Taycan.
But when Tesla launches plaid mode in the Model S (it’s expected to enter production in about a year), if that car outdoes the Taycan, you can expect a response from Stuttgart, though I have no clue what that response will be.
All I know is that the prospect of an electric sports car engineering showdown between Porsche and Tesla is one of the most exciting things I can even imagine.