You'll Have to Pry the Steering Wheel From Porsche's Cold, Dead Hands

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
you ll have to pry the steering wheel from porsche s cold dead hands

Like BMW, which aims to keep gas-powered M cars in production for as long as humanly possible, Porsche is also making a commitment to motoring purity in the face of new technologies and government overreach. That circular device positioned in front of the driver? Porsche wants to keep it there.

The specter of Big Government and Big Safety conspiring to kill non-autonomous motoring is a real fear, one that’s been talked about more than a little here at TTAC. Call it the Red Barchetta scenario.

Porsche seems aware of it, too, though it tiptoes around the entity at the center of the issue. Nevertheless, the automaker claims a future Porsche “will be one of the last automobiles with a steering wheel.”

That’s the view of Lutz Meschke, vice-president of the company’s executive board and head of finance and IT. In an interview published by the automaker, Meschke lays out the short and medium-term future for both self-driving technology and the steering wheel.

No one knows what the long-term holds, but many of us, Meschke included, seem to believe it’s a future where safety tops personal autonomy. A future where your car drives you, no ifs, ands, or buts.

“A Porsche will always be a car that you will want and be able to drive yourself,” he said, adding much later that the act of driving “will hopefully remain the most important thing at Porsche for a very long time.” Still, Porsche isn’t going the Luddite route when it comes to assist-type features that drivers might want to pay extra for — or demand as standard kit.

From the parking lot to the racetrack, “We see digitalisation and autonomous driving not as a threat but as a tremendous opportunity,” Meschke said. For the former scenario, traffic jam assistants and automated parking systems are seen as the most useful features for the brand. For buyers in Porsche’s price range, these will soon become “must haves,” he said.

Luxury car ownership obviously means the option of taking it as easy as possible. Next year’s Cayenne brings the brand’s most advanced driver’s aids yet, Meschke claims. After that, the Mission E electric sedan ( due to appear in 2019) represents the next big leap in autonomous features.

For the weekend racer, automation could mean the ability to navigate a track like your favorite pedal jockey — just download a particular race, recorded by a driver piloting the same car on the same course, and learn from your vehicle. Porsche calls that idea the “Mark-Webber-function,” named after its seasoned brand ambassador.

“With this function, the vehicle could drive autonomously on a racetrack like the Nürnburgring – just like Webber would drive,” said Meschke. “The car drives an ideal course and demonstrates perfect brakes in the curves, where to best shift and where to accelerate. First, software saves the exact course Mark Webber drives on a racetrack. These data are used by the autonomous vehicle to drive the course identically. Afterwards the customer can reclaim the steering wheel and let the car show him the ideal course, thus training and improving his skills as a driver via direct feedback from the car. This is technically possible already. Of course, the driver can improve over time and learn new things.”

Naturally, other tracks and drivers would be part of such a hypothetical feature. Back in the real world, Porsche plans to make more of its money from digitalisation, the less-sexy, once-removed cousin of automation. For example, it already offers German customers the ability to order additional insurance online (“Porsche Shield”) before heading to the track.

In the medium term, Porsche hopes to generate a two-digit percentage of its business from digital services. As for the long term, well, that likely involves a rogue Porsche engineer in the last production 911 deftly avoiding Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt road safety drones as he races for the Swiss border.

[Image: Porsche]

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4 of 9 comments
  • Menar Fromarz Menar Fromarz on Nov 27, 2017

    Hey autonomous fanboi's...Roll this puppy out in Mumbai first, and lets see how THAT goes. Until then, its totally misplaced and underbaked. For First World urban transit bus routes, I can get it. The way its postulated as the next big thing? Not so much.

    • See 1 previous
    • Energetik9 Energetik9 on Nov 28, 2017

      Obviously, roll out of technology will occur at different rates and levels of autonomy. I also think there is great debate as to the timeline. However, having seen the levels of chaos on a recent trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, I fully get these challenges. Autonomy is easy in concept, but throw in a 5-to-1 ratio of mopeds to cars with a completely optional set of traffic laws and who knows how that's ever going to work.

  • Jcwconsult Jcwconsult on Nov 28, 2017

    BMW, Porsche and a few others recognize that some of us actually like driving and have no intention of giving up the enjoyable activity to computers.

  • SCE to AUX From the SAE: Level 3: "When the feature requests, you must drive."The timing of that request will be the subject of lawsuits. Too little warning, and this is just a Level 2 system wearing nicer clothes.Pretty car, though.
  • Analoggrotto So, who has the digital Tourettes?
  • Analoggrotto Mercedes can try but will NEVER match the superlative engineering of TESLA. The #1 Choice for the #1 members of society. The lower class can stay on earth and drive Mercedes.
  • Dukeisduke The "fix" is not a fix - it just assures that when the o-ring breaks down and leaks brake fluid onto the board, the fuse will blow and the car won't burn to the ground. The HECU ("Hydraulic Unit Assembly" in H/K parlance) will still be dead, and you'll have no ABS or ESC. So the car won't burn to the ground, but you'll be looking at an expensive repair. I priced the HECU (Kia p/n 58920-1M640) for the 2012 Forte Koup - the MSRP is $2,325.79, and I can get one from the online seller I buy from for $1646.65. It's not much labor to replace, but then you have to bleed the brakes, or preferably flush the system, since the car's 11 years old and could use a flush. Folks relying on a dealer will be out $3k or more for repairs.I went to the NHTSA site and filed a defect report (the only way I could find to comment on the recall) to tell them that they should force H/K to replace the HECUs on all the affected vehicles, instead of allowing them to just do the minimum.
  • SCE to AUX All right Hyundai - enough of this.These are all older cars, and I believe H/K issued a recall for the same thing before. My former 09 Sedona was recalled for an ABS fire risk. The solution was some sort of extra ground wire from the battery down to the ABS unit or something - I didn't trace it.H/K has a habit of issuing partial solutions with limited scope (saving face), then later expanding the recall greatly. They did this with the 2.4 engine debacle, corroding control arms, and now this ABS thing.As for the EV vs ICE fire debate, no need to stir that pot here. EVs use hydraulic ABS brakes as well, but they don't appear to be covered in this recall (yet... and it would only be the early Ioniq 1 EV, if any).Looking into my crystal ball, they'll probably have to recall the Ioniq 5/6 and Genesis GV60 for an ongoing charging issue, where the charging port heats up and limits the charging rate on an AC plug (at home).Following their usual pattern, a software fix was issued first, greatly slowing the charge rate. Owners are irate, and I think Hyundai is simply delaying the day when they have to replace the wiring harness and charge port on all their new EVs, at great expense.Sorry Hyundai - can't defend you on this one.