An Exclusive Look at the State-of-the-Art Porsche Factory in Leipzig
Ferdinand Porsche was 23 years old when he built his first car in 1898. Granted, it wasn’t so much a car as it was a carriage, but it had an electric motor and produced a then-remarkable three horsepower at 350 rpm. Top speed: 35 kilometers per hour. It went on to win the gold medal in a race at the international motor vehicle exhibition in Berlin a year later, with the second placer rumbling past the finish line 18 minutes after.
This Egger-Lohner C.2 electric vehicle, nicknamed the P1, prefaced the story of one of the world’s most recognizable names in premium automobile manufacturing, and so it was only right that it was also the starting point of a special guided tour I took inside the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. Opened in 2009, the museum cuts a striking figure in this part of the city. The huge, oddly shaped building made of gleaming glass and metal resembles a boxy UFO leaning at an angle. It faces a roundabout called Porscheplatz, where there is a monument made of three models of the marque’s iconic 911 from different eras racing up into the sky.
Few people know that the humble Beetle was created by the company that Porsche formed in 1931, upon instructions by the German government to create an affordable “people’s car.”
For true fans of the German brand, the museum is Porsche heaven. Over 100 cars are on display, each carefully selected from the company’s own 500-car collection to represent important milestones in its history. The exhibit is principally divided between cars manufactured before and after 1948, which is when Porsche’s first actual production vehicle—the 356 roadster—was produced.
“Ninety percent of the cars here can still be driven,” the tour guide said.
After the P1, there is a succession of cars that trace Ferdinand Porsche’s efforts in vehicle production. I had to do a double-take when I saw a Volkswagen Beetle among the displays; few people know this, the guide said, that the humble Beetle was created by the company that Porsche formed in 1931, upon instructions by the German government to create an affordable “people’s car.”
The Beetle, which was also called the Type 60, was soon followed by the Type 64, the company’s first Porsche-branded vehicle. With a body made of aluminum just 1.55mm thin, it weighed a feather-light 85 kilos, and was used in a race from Berlin to Rome. It sits near the 356, the first car built by Ferdinand Porsche’s son, Ferry, who famously said, “In the beginning I looked around, but couldn’t find the car I dreamt of, so I decided to build it myself.”The cars are displayed without barriers, although visitors are discouraged from touching them. Highlights include the Porsche 804, which competed for one season in Formula One; the Type 754 or T7, the predecessor of the bestselling 911; a 911 that was the one millionth vehicle Porsche built and which was donated to the German police force in 1996; and even “Sally,” the character from the Pixar film Cars, which engineers created soon after the movie’s release, complete with eyes over the windshield and a sly smile out in front.
Before I knew it, I reached the end of the exhibition nearly two stories up from where I began, which means the layout is in a gradual incline and people don’t notice that they’re actually going up as they move forward. The display here features Porsche’s current models, including a 918 Spyder with a top speed of 345 kph and capable of going from zero to 100 in 2.6 seconds. Talk about a leap from Porsche’s P1.
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The Porsche factory in Leipzig is dedicated to producing three models in their lineup: the Cayenne, the Macan, and the Panamera.
The museum was only the first part of my Porsche pilgrimage. A few days later, I was in Leipzig, where the company has a plant dedicated to producing three models in their lineup: the Cayenne, the Macan, and the Panamera.
About 47,000 visitors make the trip here annually. If the museum only hints at a UFO, Porsche Leipzig’s main visitor building looks like its mothership (although designers intended for it to look like a cut diamond). On one side, the company built its very own FIA-certified racetrack, where speed demons can arrange for testdrives in one of their blazing fast sports cars.
The track is 3.7 kilometers long and borrows design elements from different tracks around the world, including Nurbugring and Laguna Seca. Adjacent to it is a six-kilometer long off-road track with 18 obstacles, which Porsche uses for research and test cycles.
What was once an assembly plant is now a full-fledged factory, where about 650 vehicles roll off the line every day. The guide explains that every one of those cars is made to order.
Of the 225,000 cars Porsche delivered in 2015, 165,000 came from the facility in Leipzig. The rest are built in the Stuttgart factory near the museum. I walked along the spotless work area and witnessed workmen put together actual Porsche vehicles. I saw workers laying out the car’s cable loom system, which the guide said measures about three kilometers long when laid end-to-end. Driverless transport systems running on induction loops scurried about, delivering parts and servicing the needs of the workers. No components are kept on stock, which is an advantage in terms of space. Instead, trucks come twice a day delivering the necessary components, while trains arrive daily carrying painted body shells from Hannover, as well as dashboards and seats from a separate factory in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Ergonomic working conditions help the engineers, mechanical, and technical crew, while an efficient system to help them pick and choose components and parts drastically reduces chances of making any mistakes. It’s part of the company’s belief in the Japanese principle of “Poka-yoke” or “inadvertent error prevention.”
“We have a zero-mistake principle; we avoid mistakes as much as we can,” the guide explained. “There are processes to fix the problem so the workers can focus on their main job.”
One interesting bit of trivia I learned concerns the color of the brake calipers: black means it’s a basic model; silver is for those with S designation; while red is reserved for Turbo models.
I take note of this as I walked out of the factory and head to the second floor of the Visitor’s Center, where there is a small exhibition area filled with more of the gleaming, brand-new Porsches, and a restaurant overlooking the racetrack and off-road course. A waiter hands me a drink as I take in the view. I can’t help but raise my glass to Ferdinand Porsche, the visionary carmaker who crafted that first car at the age of 23, many, many years ago.
This article originally appeared in our February 2017 issue.