Niels van Roij is not only an automotive artist but automotive design has been his main field of interest from a very early age and there’s little he does not know. Read his expertism on the Porsche design.
Niels how do you view Porsche?
Porsche is a really interesting brand to talk about. When you talk about an iconic brand, Porsche is the essence of that. Porsche has been really busy the last ten years reinventing itself and exploring what is best for the brand. They had to broaden their vision and now, next to the 911, you see a whole range of Porsche designs, like the Cayenne, the Panamera and they are now working on a 4 cylinder entry level Macan.
Despite all the criticism they received the past years for doing this, Porsche is doing exceptionally well and that is an enormous achievement considering some other brands are doing so poorly.
The combination of looking into what the brand means, applying the right methods and realizing the end goal is extremely complex and Porsche shows they have that process under control.
I’ve been looking at the philosophy behind Porsche and heard this quote: ”if you analyse the function of an object, it’s form becomes obvious”. Do you recognize that in all the models Niels?
Porsche is of course an extremely complex brand. The 911 is an icon and both its engineering and design are fantastic. Porsche has been making great sports cars with Porsche DNA for years, but the mammoth task was to take the next step, because the market was changing so much that just building solely the 911 wasn’t sufficient any longer. So their success with the 911 was a blessing and a curse at the same time. They had to keep the brand DNA on the one hand, yet not keep strictly to the old design philosophy of two door sports cars – as this doesn’t suit expanding the model portfolio. Car manufacturers in current times have to look at the openings in the market, otherwise the competition takes over.
When Porsche began with their first SUV, their main target group were mainly already Porsche owners. But a large portion of these people had a luxury SUV as a daily driver, next to their 911, a SUV was the vehicle typology Porsche could not offer.
The challenge was, how to apply the same design and engineering DNA to other vehicle typologies, so that they would be as successful as the 911 in “being a Porsche”, and Porsche achieved that. If they had just stuck to the 911 and not taken the necessary steps to design new models, they would not have survived. They nearly went bankrupt a couple of times. The designs of these new, non-sports car Porsche’s is totally different from the 911, but despite that fact they are still clearly a member of the Porsche family. The Porsche Cayenne is probably the best driving SUV on the market, for instance. The design character and the handling of this vehicle are all in good balance. Porsche operates very well. This decision for change, widening the model line-up, is something they have done fantastically well. It saved the brand.
Niels, how would you translate the Porsche success to Automotive Artists? Do you think Porsche could be an inspiration to the artists?
Design and art share a common ground. Design strategy should be an important part of the operational management of a car manufacturer. Design sells cars. The same goes for some artists; exhibits needs to be sold so their design has to appeal to the market.
Art is often philosophical so it depends on the drive and the business vision of the artist how important sales are. As an artist, if things are not going so well, you could use the success method of Porsche as an inspiration indeed. Porsche makes fantastic sports cars and the core of Porsche has remained, despite the changes in the model line-up. The Porsche Chief Designer once said to his new designers “you are not here to design the most beautiful sports car, you are here to design the best Porsche”. There is a huge difference between the two. It’s essential that the design matches the essence of the brand completely. If Porsche would make a car which looks a lot like the competition, it would have nothing to do with Porsche. It might be a great car which drives really well and is technically good, but it would not be the essence of Porsche.
Besides Porsche cars, they have a separate branch selling exclusive luxury design products from shoes to watches to an apartment block in Miami. What are your thoughts on that?
I think it is important to do this as a brand, to expand with other products. Porsche is not only designing their cars, but also their products incredibly well. There is a really good philosophy behind the Porsche products and it is a brilliant accomplishment from Porsche to be able to translate their Porsche DNA to other products. From sunglasses to whatever…. they do it all and all products have a consistent look. Again, it’s about the essence of the Porsche DNA and they’ve really got that under control.
Do you have a favourite Porsche model Niels?
That’s a difficult question because a lot of great design work has been done. The 928 is amazingly good. This car was initially the model that had to replace the 911. They still make the 911, of course, but the 928 opened the horizon to different possibilities and one could say even to the Cayenne, the Panamera etc. etc. They are all different types of cars with different packaging – drive train, engine, cabin layout – but despite their differences in design, engines, interior and exterior, they are all still clearly all Porsche’s. Porsche now has a compact SUV, the Macan, it is fantastic and the proportions are brilliant. This latest Porsche SUV is their third and the car has not only perfect proportions for a SUV, but also – very important – for a Porsche. Everything about the design is right. It takes real expertise to achieve that. What Porsche is really good at is looking critically at what they are doing and analyse it. They retain a critical overview and are never satisfied. This always keeps them a step ahead.
There are wonderful references to the Porsche history and heritage in all their current models. If you take for instance the Porsche 918 Spyder, it is a really well-proportioned Porsche, not just a sports car, but clearly recognizable as a Porsche. The difficulty in automotive design is that it is so multi-facetted, it is extremely complex to get everything right. You have to take the character into consideration, yet the design needs to be different enough for the predecessor and the rest of the line-up, while still remaining true to the Porsche DNA. Porsche understands that process and have done it spot on in their current line-up. They have managed to hold their market position and are doing extremely well.