His name is Matthias Hofstetter. And he is the MVP of Porsche, Director Powertrain for Product Lines 911 / 718. The Maestro, really, who orchestrates the evolution of the ultimate dream cars throughout the years. Obviously, car enthusiasts around the world would kill to spend a few minutes in his company. But then again, in a sudden plot twist, it was me who had the immense honour and pleasure of having dinner with him – it was a warm and humid summer night, we were on an Athenian rooftop, right next to a gorgeous, brand new 911 Carrera 4 GTS, surrounded by the majestic energy of Parthenon and the Acropolis. Admittedly, a surreal setting.
It was the debut of the brand new 911, code name 992, and he had just finished the presentation – with the help of Alexandra Loens (PR Manager Porsche) and Dominic Mayer (Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur).
How often in life does one get the chance of meeting the man responsible for their dream? Once? This was it for me. And it all started as simple as that: “I’m Matthias. You are?”
“Extremely happy”, I said, watching him sit right next to me.
We spent the rest of the evening chatting over a glass of precious Santorinian wine – none of us would drive right after.
They say, you learn a whole lot more about the thing that interests you the most, when you spend time with the one who created it. It’s true. The next morning, every single detail and aspect of the new 911 magically made sense.
What follows is our conversation, he gave me permission to share it with you. An extremely rare and unexpected interview of Matthias Hofstetter. Dedicated to every single one out there, whose knees get weak, each time he/she even hears the engine of a 911 roar, while dancing on the streets.
Your favourite color?
In general, I like strong and dark colors like blue, but considering that Porsche has its roots on the racetrack – a 911 in Racing Yellow would be my favorite.
Favorite music to listen to while you are behind the wheel.
I like the Scorpions, Queen, John Miles and sometimes Abba. We also have quite good German musicians I like to listen to, but as new hits are constantly played on the radio, I like to go back to the classic ones, every once in a while.
Favorite destination to drive to.
My favorite place to go by car is the area around Lake Como in Italy, followed closely by the Black Forest in Germany. Whereas by motorbike, one of the most impressive tours I did was along Highway No. 1 and Route 66 with five of my life-long friends. It was such an unforgettable trip, a true once in a lifetime experience for me.
Water, my zodiac sign is Cancer.
Your first Porsche.
It was a 996, unfortunately not a turbo, but still a very special one in my life as it was the first one.
Your current Porsche.
My current Porsche is a Panamera GTS Sport Turismo in Volcano Grey. We need a lot of space as we are a family of four and the dog needs to fit in the car as well.
My wife, she has an extremely good taste.
I have no certain names in mind, but I do have a great respect for the architects of the villas around Lake Como. I am simply amazed every time I am there by how classic yet still contemporary that style remained.
Name the man you have looked up to, while growing up. Who inspired you to be the man you have become?
Here I have to clearly distinguish between subconscious role models like the parents and grandparents and the conscious role models, like superheroes, for example. As a kid, I had a certain fascination for TV heroes like Bruce Lee or Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. Everything about them was enhanced and admirable. But I always looked up to my parents and grandparents as they had a big impact of who I became. Nowadays, I don’t necessarily have role models anymore, but I try to be one for myself. It challenges me and encourages me at the same time.
Name the most stylish man (dead or alive).
For me Karl Lagerfeld embodies the meaning of style.
Describe yourself using three words.
On time, punctuality is a gesture of appreciation.
Home-loving. Even if the travel fever grabs me from time to time, I am always very happy to be at home.
Content, I don’t need much to be happy. A good steak, or a glass of red wine, a good conversation and a cigar with a matching whiskey sometimes, these are simple things that I enjoy and feel grateful for. It’s rather more about the moment.
What is the ultimate luxury for you.
What kind of a driver are you?
I love cars and I love to drive them, but always very responsible. It’s not only the responsibility one has when sitting behind a steering wheel, but also the fact that we represent the company when driving our cars. I drive defensively on public roads, but when I have the possibility to drive on racetrack, I enjoy the experience to the fullest. I make no secret out of it, once I get on the track, I love to drive very fast.
What inspires you the most every day?
It is a combination of the people, the product and the fact that I have the opportunity to help shape the future of mobility. You can feel that the employees are truly passionate about being part of Porsche and they love the cars, believe in them and this brings a sense of motivation, which is quite specific for us, I would say. We always compete against ourselves and that is what makes every car better than its previous generation. And I am the same, I personally always approach a problem as a challenge, never as a burden. It’s a combination of all these ingredients, and I don’t think I will ever run out of this inspiration.
Describe Porsche in three words.
Pioneer spirit, passion, a family. But for me three are not enough, there are a few I can’t leave out like emotional, athletic and simply fantastic.
If you were a Porsche, which model would it be?
I would be so keen and say a GT2 RS because for me it is the best car I have driven in my life so far.
The most important lesson you were taught at work.
That it’s all about the team.Both my team and myself, we have a culture of appreciation and a face-to-face communication approach. We share a very good relationship with each other, we respect each others’ work and most importantly, we appreciate one another. I think this is what drives the performance to a high level, which in my opinion, reflects also in the product.
When did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
It is a long story and it started early, at the age of 15 when I began my training as a mechanic. Already in my first week I realized that I like the job, it was very interesting and I was very curious about it, but I wanted to go further. So I made a deal with myself that I have to become an engineer. To do so I had to finish the training the best I could, and so I did. But this took me three years, and after the years of training, I went back to high school to get my diploma so I can study in the university, which took me two more years. And so, at the age of 25 I have reached my first goal: I graduated from university as an engineer and I already had practical experience. Then I started my career at Audi, for seven great years. After that I decided it’s time for a change, so I became part of the Porsche Family.
How important are the materials and components used? What constitutes luxury, when it comes to the mechanical components (not just the interior) of a car?
In a car like Porsche that is meant to be driven on public roads and on racetrack, all components of the car, no matter if visible or not, have to fulfill very high standards of quality. In a sports car, all parts are highly stressed and pressured by various forces, and of course that means that high quality is not a luxury, but it’s mandatory. We are of course talking about high quality material also in terms of strength, resistance, safety, functionality and design. Very often this comes naturally with a certain expense.
Who is the client you ideally speak to with each new design?
At Porsche, design is built on a strong principle: form follows function. And this functionality leads to our specific design especially when it comes to our iconic 911. Everything has a purpose and a meaning in a Porsche car. Our designers aim to be creative and innovative while keeping at the same time the classic identity of each model. Performance is also absolutely essential in every Porsche we built, and these are the main principles we keep in mind for every single car we develop. There are certain people that identify themselves with these principles, with performance, quality, design, functionality, tradition and innovation and I believe these are the people that are generally interested in Porsche.
Where do you imagine yourself to be in –say- ten years from now?
That is a great, but tough question. For me it is always important to go your own way, but keep being capable of accepting changes and facing challenges because that is what makes life exciting. For now, I can say I am happy and thankful of how life worked out for me so far.
Imagine you were to organize a private race, say for five contestants. Who would you invite? (They can be dead or alive, from whatever field, imaginary list)
Ayrton Senna, Michael Schuhmacher, Mark Webber, Walter Röhrl, and Doya Karolini.
What can be considered as “ethical”, “modern” and “sustainable” when it comes down to designing future cars?
Especially when it comes to sustainability, all of us need to rethink and be aware of our actions and their impact on our environment. We develop our cars having this in mind, from the investments we do in reducing the C02 emissions of our factories where we build our sports cars, in Zuffenhausen and Leipzig, to the choice of materials, the reduction of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, to various hybrid powertrains we offer for different models. And we have shown that sporty driving, fun and a high degree of efficiency are exactly what constitute the essence of our brand that we bring with every future model: “Porsche Intelligent Performance”.
Oscar Wilde once said “Regrets, just like mistakes, make a gentleman”. What is the one thing you regret having done? What would you have done differently on your path?
Nothing. I wouldn’t have done anything differently in my life and I embrace all experiences and their life lessons I had so far because they shaped me.
The 911 is still a driver’s car. Will it be the world’s last supercar to be offered with an autonomous driving system?
The 911 is a very special model for us, classic but always innovative. If we change too little, nobody will notice, if we change too much it is not a 911 anymore.
But one thing is for sure: a Porsche will always be a car that you will want and be able to drive yourself.
There are of course aspects of autonomous driving that are interesting for us, such as traffic jam assistants or automated parking. These are examples of autonomous driving technologies that you would expect to have in a Porsche. We see digitalization and autonomous driving as an opportunity for us, but we will always interpret in a in a way that is typical of Porsche without altering our sports car manufacturer identity.
The creep of modernity, and convenience also reached the 992, with the adaptive cruise control gaining functions (like lane keeping assist and lane departure warning systems), while there’s also the option of night vision, plus the Wet Mode. How big is the impact of what drivers / customers want on the end product?
I think we did our best to meet the expectations of our customers with these new features, even in a 911. Our timeless sports car has more power, is faster but in the same way safer and more digital and so we are putting a modern twist on classic elements. Many of these assistance systems are developed having safety as a main priority, both for the driver and passengers but also for other participants in traffic. Especially the Wet Mode is one our latest technologies we think it will prevent many incidents, or even save lives. And if through all these systems we can prevent even just one accident, it means we have done something right.