Automaker is investing heavily in its new Tesla-fighter
Porsche is betting big on the Taycan. Make no mistake, Taycan is more than just greenwash, more than just a hastily improvised mea culpa for the Volkswagen Group’s dieselgate shenanigans. Porsche is spending more than a billion dollars to bring its first electric sports car to market, almost $800 million of that on a dedicated new factory.
The Porsche Taycan factory has been wedged in and among various existing buildings at Porsche’s main plant in Zuffenhausen, Germany. Clearing the site alone cost more than $50 million, making it a more expensive option than simply expanding the newer production facility at Leipzig, in the eastern part of the country, where the Macan and Panamera are built.
Spending the money at Zuffenhausen was a deliberate decision, says Taycan production specialist David Thor Tryggvason, who points out the site is the symbolic heart of Porsche, where the company’s iconic 911 has long been made. “We want Taycan to be part of Porsche,” he says, “and to send a signal that the future of Porsche is at Zuffenhausen.”
Constructed in less than 48 months, the Porsche Taycan factory includes a facility that assembles e-motors, transmissions, and axles, along with a dedicated body assembly line, a new paint shop, and a 2,900-foot-long conveyor that transports bodies, e-motors, battery packs, and axles to the final assembly hall.
The innovative factory makes heavy use of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) developed in house by Porsche. Small AGVs in the powertrain and axle assembly areas navigate between stations using sensors and wireless communication. Larger AGVs that rely on optical sensors to follow QR codes on lines taped to the floor are used instead of traditional conveyor belts in the body and final assembly areas.
The QR code system means the layout of the Taycan factory’s large final assembly plant—it could house the entire Porsche Museum building three times over—is very flexible. Assembly lines can be moved or changed simply by laying a new line of tape. And without the need to support bulky conveyors, the building’s floors didn’t have to be as robustly engineered and expensive to build as in a conventional factory.
As mentioned in our First Look story, Taycan will launch in two-motor form, with e-motors in two levels of tune. Core e-motor parts—rotor, stator, etc.—are from third-party suppliers. The casings and transmission, however, are Porsche’s own design. Because the e-motors will be built in two power variants, Porsche says this requires a high-precision assembly process. But although the e-motor assembly is largely automated, Porsche workers hand-select the shims that ensure there is just 0.3mm clearance between the rotor/stator and the housing. Porsche wants its workers actively involved in building Taycan motors.
The Taycan factory is slowly being brought up to speed. The first e-motor, transmission, and axle assemblies were built in the middle of 2018, and the first bodies a few months later. The first completed Taycan came off the line in the unfinished final assembly hall in December 2018, just before Christmas.
Taycan will become Porsche’s sixth model line, joining 911, 718, Macan, Cayenne, and Panamera. Porsche says the factory can produce 20,000 Taycans annually, which would equate to a healthy 7.5 percent bump in total production for the company over 2018. But that’s a conservative number: Once production processes have been bedded in and Porsche is confident cars can be produced in higher numbers without impacting quality, the factory’s innovative and flexible layout means output could readily be doubled to 40,000 Taycans a year.
What’s more, Porsche claims it is already holding 30,000 orders for the Taycan, before a single customer has even driven one. Based on the company’s 2018 production numbers, that would make this electric Porsche more popular than the 718 Cayman/Boxster and within striking distance of both the 911 and the Panamera. And it’s roughly 60 percent of total Tesla Model S production last year.
Yes, Taycan is a big bet. But so is the potential payoff.