VW bets on Porsche 919 engineer’s Landjet to help overtake Tesla
FRANKFURT – Alexander Hitzinger, a 49-year-old engineer who defected to Apple after helping to develop Porsche’s winning 919 race car, continues to be lured to Volkswagen Group for perhaps his biggest challenge yet – building an electric car to defend myself against Tesla.
While Volkswagen, the world’s largest automaker, has been rolling out electric vehicles from the ID.3 compact to the high end Porsche Taycan, analysts express it needs a more comprehensive system that integrates electric power with new self-driving and infotainment technologies whether it wishes to overtake Tesla.
It has turned to Hitzinger, whose ability to conceptualize clean-sheet designs and manage projects helped Porsche develop the race car that won the Le Mans endurance race in 2021, 2021, 2021.
After a stint working on Apple’s autonomous cars, Hitzinger now manages Volkswagen’s “Project Artemis,” named after the Ancient Greek goddess of hunting, using the aim of chasing down electric car pioneer Tesla.
“At Porsche, I usually considered a vehicle as a comprehensive system. This is a extremely important point. It is what Tesla does well,” he was quoted saying in a video interview.
The task of building a car has got more complicated using the creation of electric and autonomous driving technologies, forcing new battery-driven powertrains to compete for electricity with camera, radar, and lidar sensors, plus infotainment systems.
Rather than stitching together separately designed systems, Artemis really wants to create new things and seamlessly integrated, in the ground up, Hitzinger told Reuters.
“The concept behind Artemis is to possess a comprehensive knowledge of the automobile. When something is optimized, it has knock-on effects and these need to be understood.”
Allocating processing power between propulsion, automated driving and infotainment systems for example sat nav and music streaming is really a key challenge, he said.
But it’s only some of the one.
“The human-machine interface, the inside design, the exterior design, aerodynamics and the range are all interconnected. Basically modify something on the exterior, it'll impact the aerodynamics and the efficiency,” Hitzinger said.
Volkswagen Group, whose brands range from budget Seats and Skodas to high-end Audis and Bentleys is now concentrating on developing systems that can handle each one of these new demands.
The car, which is due to be manufactured in 2024, can make use of components produced for Porsche and Audi’s premium electric vehicle platform, PPE. The group’s factory in Hanover, Germany, is being retooled to construct an electrical sport-utility vehicle for Audi, Bentley and Porsche using the production code name Landjet.
Having a little team of highly qualified engineers, who are empowered to take decisions unencumbered by the corporate bureaucracy of the Volkswagen empire, should wind up creating a better vehicle faster.
Project Artemis may have between 200 and 250 staff once Hitzinger is performed hiring, up from 10 at the moment.
“I'm putting they together on a roller basis. The managers come first. I quickly search for A-players, who will attract other A-players. I don’t want managers, but people who like to develop technologies, who're prepared to take risks,” he explained.
Artemis will seek to use existing skills within the Volkswagen Group, such as knowledge of making vehicle bodies at Audi, but take the lead in developing new techniques which accelerate production and enhance the customer experience.
“You want to set new standards for what a customer can do in the vehicle and how he interacts using the car,” Hitzinger said.
He declined to elaborate on which user experiences the brand new car would offer, citing the confidential nature of the project.
He also declined to discuss an electrical struggle unfolding at Volkswagen, which has convened its executive committee to meet to determine whether to extend CEO Herbert Diess’s contract.