Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.
There’s plenty of news coming out of Europe this week on the heels of the 2014 Geneva auto show, but right now, Porsche is the big story on the Continent. Earlier this year, the automaker made headlines when it announced that company founder Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s first vehicle was found in an Austrian shed 116 years after it was built. It is a compelling story, but just six weeks after the electric carriage known as the Egger-Lohner C2 was added to the Porsche Museum, the foundations of the extraordinary tale are beginning to crumble.
The Egger-Lohner C2 as found—but is it the first Porsche?
But first, the background: Hailed as the “world’s first Porsche design” and for having been constructed by Ferdinand Porsche himself, the C2 forced a reshuffling of the automaker’s museum to accommodate it and properly convey its historical significance. As Porsche puts it, “after 116 years, the original and unrestored vehicle has been recovered and is set to enrich the Porsche Museum’s collection as a technical and historical worldwide sensation.” As part of a beautiful story that seemed to further validate Porsche’s politically correct venture into hybrid and electric technology, the carriage was to be honored as a “technological benchmark” and would inform modern-day Porsches like the hybridized 918 Spider. Plus, what’s more impressive than being able to say your company’s first car was electric?
One of the C2′s (not real) P1 engravings.
Chief among the many stunning aspects of the Egger-Lohner discovery was that “nobody knew it still existed,” as Dieter Landenberger, head of Porsche’s archive, told Auto Motor und Sport last month. He added: “It stood in the corner of a carriage museum and was forgotten for many decades.” And, “out of respect for the previous owner we won’t disclose where it was found.” It was insinuated the electric carriage was rediscovered just last year—and subsequently sold to Wolfgang Porsche for an undisclosed (possibly exorbitant) sum. The C2’s other interesting details include the code “P1” engraved onto its main components (“P1” stands for “Porsche 1”—as in, the first Porsche ever made—and the moniker supposedly was carved by Ferdinand himself), and that it won an electric vehicle race on September 28, 1899.
Then the Austrian website krone.at, part of Austria’s largest newspaper, got onto the case and doubts immediately began to surface. Krone discovered that the Egger-Lohner C2, in fact, was stored in the Technical Museum of Vienna for decades until 2009, when it was traded for “far more interesting pieces,” according to the museum’s director. Valued at €35,000–€40,000, the carriage was deemed expendable, since the museum has a far better-preserved unit in its collection. And those ballyhooed P1 engravings, which Porsche says were put there “so [Ferdinand] made sure that he would take credit for the vehicle’s design?” It seems they’re fake and were added after 2009. Another logo, which reads “Jacob Lohner & Comp., System Lohner Porsche,” was added after 2009, as well.
So far, Porsche has admitted to the engravings’ falsehood. But automotive historian Kurt Möser, who the company commissioned to further evaluate the car, has found yet another P1 engraving— which he says likely is original, though it might stand for “Prototype 1,” not “Porsche 1.” Porsche maintains that, regardless of whether the Egger-Lohner C2 is its first car or not, it is an important piece of automotive history and one that saw significant Ferdinand Porsche involvement (he built the electric motor). So, despite the C2 having never actually competed in the 1899 electric-car race it supposedly won (oh, yeah, that wasn’t real, either), we agree it certainly is a noteworthy vehicle. That said, the question remains why it was tampered with after 2009, and whether it will continue “to influence the future of the Porsche brand,” as the company previously predicted.
Winterkorn Wary of Data Abuse
Speaking of the future of Volkswagen, Group CEO Martin Winterkorn said in Wolfsburg today: “The modern car cannot be allowed to turn into a data kraken. We protect our customers from perils like hydroplaning, microsleep, and from long and annoying traffic jams. With similar care, we will protect them from the abuse of their data. I say: ‘Yes’ to big data, to more safety and comfort. But ‘no’ to patronization and Big Brother.”
Winterkorn appealed to his colleagues: “We need a voluntary agreement to this end in the industry. The VW Group is ready for it.”
I hope other carmakers will listen and resist the temptation of tapping into vehicle data for commercial purposes, or for passing code on to traffic enforcement. Winterkorn’s efforts to get ahead of this issue, which will only get bigger and more fought-over in the coming years, is admirable and should send a powerful message.
Electric car manufacturer Mia is on the verge of bankruptcy, but a cash infusion of €365,000 this week might help to avert immediate disaster. Mia’s diminutive van has sold in woefully low numbers and is reportedly plagued by reliability issues. Two years ago, Mia top executive Murat Günak, a former VW chief designer, predicted that the auto industry is heading toward a dead end. Ironically, it seems that’s exactly where Mia has arrived. Where’s everyone else?
Meanwhile, a key supplier in Germany predicts sharply rising prices for cars as a result of EU emissions and consumption requirements. Compact cars could become up to €3000 more expensive than today, predicts Schaeffler’s R&D chief Peter Gutzmer. Even minicars will be between €800 and €1200 more expensive. Entire vehicle segments could disappear, such as SUVs and off-roaders, and to top it all off, Gutzmer says the EU regulations put the European auto industry at a competitive disadvantage. Ouch.