Look inside Porsche's massive new Taycan factory

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 2, 2019.
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That distinction goes to the electric contraption Ferdinand Porsche built in 1898. His Egger-Lohner C2 Phaeton was powered by an octagonal electric motor and had a top speed of 25kmph. The Lohner-Porsche Electromobile, a continuation of the Phaeton, made its debut at the Paris Auto Expo in 1900, followed by his Semper Vivus hybrid car later that year. Despite early success, however, the vehicles’ low power output, coupled with a lack of electric infrastructure, doomed those early experiments.

The company’s modern electric car stands to fare better. The Taycan Turbo S boasts 750 horsepower, with an extensive network of charging stations. In North America, Taycan stations are part of the Volkswagen Group initiative called Electrify America, which offers a charge at up to 350kW at 300 highway locations. Porsche has said it will spend more than €6 billion (RM27.61 billion) on electric and sustainable mobility by 2022. And the brand is going big to produce the new electric sedan it has been developing for the past four years: A €700 million factory which opened on Sept 9 will build the Taycan and its CUV variant, the Taycan Cross Turismo.

The new site adds 2,000 jobs to Porsche’s 30,000-plus workforce; more than 12,000 employees work on-site at the Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen factory compound. The 667,000-square-foot final assembly plant is now the largest building on Zuffenhausen’s 157-acre campus.

Here is a look inside the beating heart of the operation. — Bloomberg

 

Out with the old, in with the new

An employee places protective covers over combustion engines at the factory near Stuttgart, Germany. Porsche sells six different models in the US, including the Cayenne and Macan SUVs, the Panamera sedan, and the Cayman sports car. The Taycan is the only vehicle in the modern Porsche family to run on pure electric power. Klaus Zellmer, president and chief executive officer of Porsche North America, says all the models will eventually offer a plug-in option. The last to join the group will be the iconic 911 sports car, he said on Nov 21 in New York.

 

Electric soul

A Taycan Turbo juices up at a charging station inside the Porsche factory. Taycan drivers can charge their vehicles with up to 11kW of alternating current on a simple electrical outlet at home. Or, on the road, they can use the car’s 800-volt technology and Performance Battery Plus, which allows for charging with higher, direct current. In five minutes the battery can recharge for a range of as far as 100km. It is possible to get almost a full charge in a little more than 20 minutes at 800-volt high-power stations. Total driving range on a full charge varies according to how hard the car is driven; under the best conditions, it will get roughly 450km of range.

 

Keeping watch

Employees monitor a control screen next to a Taycan. Porsche has said it will invest more than €6 billion by 2022 in electric mobility, new vehicles, new production facilities, and jobs.

 

Paint it blue

A Taycan body shell is lifted by a cradle on the production line. Instead of a traditional assembly line that is more rigid in structure and flow, Taycan production employs a “flexi-line” that has a driverless transport system to move components of the car. This flexibility means special and bespoke customer requirements are easier to implement into individual cars. What is more, it simplifies the architecture of the new building so that it can be reconfigured as needed.

 

Not neutral stance

A Taycan stands on a platform ahead of dashboard installation. Since it is emission-free, it is natural that the car is produced carbon-neutrally at the new site, which uses natural electricity and biogas to generate heat inside the buildings. The company also uses electric vehicles to aid with manufacturing, and the factory has a bio-friendly roof of live foliage and greenery.

 

Strength in numbers

Employees perform a quality-control inspection under the hood. All told, it was four years from when Porsche’s Mission E Concept Study premiered and the Taycan factory opened — less than five months later, it started pumping out cars. (The Mission E was the concept car that eventually became the Taycan.) More than 2,050 construction workers worked on the site at peak times, including 150 planners and site managers, 30 project controllers, and 10 project managers from Porsche’s construction department. In total, 130 companies and suppliers were involved in creating the space.

 

Window display

Robotic arms install the windows. The factory covers 4km of road inside its walls and has a total space of 1.8 million cubic metres — or three-quarters of the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The factory site, nestled in Zuffenhausen, is important to the Porsche faithful: It is the town where the automaker produced its first 356 model, which left the factory on April 6, 1950. By the following year, 1,000 of the little sports cars had been produced, according to company archives. Originally, Ferry Porsche had estimated he would make a series of just 500 vehicles. By the time production ended in 1965, roughly 78,000 Porsche 356s had been made, setting the groundwork for the 911 coupe and, years later, the bestselling Macan.

 

Big brake

The Porsche logo is visible on a brake caliper. The Taycan uses powerful regenerative braking that helps recharge battery levels when the driver hits the brake pedal. Porsche engineers have estimated that drivers of the new Taycan electric sedan will accomplish around 90% of their braking via the regenerative function. And those brakes are big: The Taycan Turbo has conventional steel brake rotors that measure 16.4 inches in the front and 14.4 inches in the rear. Additionally, carbon ceramic brakes come standard on the Turbo S, optional on the Turbo; those measure 16.5 inches in the front and 16.1 inches at the back. (The largest production brakes offered on the biggest SUVs top out at about 17.7 inches.) Both brake options use giant 10-piston front and four-piston rear calipers.

 

Finished product

An all-electric Porsche Taycan was driven onstage at the official debut ceremony on Sept 9, marking the start of production at the Porsche factory in Stuttgart. The four-door sedan is on sale now, with deliveries set for March 2020. Pricing starts at US$153,510 (RM641,672) for the Turbo and US$187,610 for the Turbo S version. A just-announced Taycan 4S with the Performance Battery will start at US$103,800, while the Performance Battery Plus model will start at US$110,380.