Quiet is one thing Porsche Middle East’s CEO, Deesch Papke isn’t. However, a number of his current ultra high performance cars are. We catch up with the 56-year-old South African to hear his views on hybrid propulsion, artificial noise and his drive to work.

Rob Chilton
You’ve seen a lot of change in your 33 years in the car business. Where does hybrid technology rank for you in sheer wow factor?

It’s a major change. I’ve gone from naturally aspirated to turbo to ABS to power steering – this industry doesn’t stop. Every time we bring out a new model I’m astounded by the brilliance of our engineers. Now we’re going from purely combustion engines to hybrid to fully electric and towards autonomous driving.

Do you feel lucky and excited to be working in this period?

I’m enormously excited by it. The motor industry is probably the best example of modern art. We reinvent ourselves every seven years.

What do you drive to work?

The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid.

What do you think of it?

It is ridiculously cool [laughs]. When I start it up in the garage every morning I think, wow. I drive the same route to work every day, but there’s a roundabout at Meydan – you know it? Sometimes I thrash around that. The car is so beautifully balanced. It’s five metres of the most luxurious car, but put it on a race track and it’s schizophrenic. I charge it at home, drive here to the office, charge here, and drive home. I can drive up to 140kmh and be purely electric the whole week. The car is 100 per cent green, that is wonderfully responsible.

Do hybrid cars appeal to younger people? What do your kids think of it?

My son is 21 and a petrolhead and my daughter is 18 and she likes the tech part of it. When their friends come to visit they think the car is cool.

So you’re confident the next generation will latch onto hybrid cars?

The car attracts a younger generation. In Europe so far this year 60 per cent of Panameras sold were plug in hybrid. People are changing their minds not only because of legislation but also because they see the car as a real proposition. It’s not manufacturers doing this for the sake of it. This is real.

How proud are you of the motor industry as a whole to see it embracing this movement?

I am enormously proud because we set targets and we meet them. If you look at what this industry has been continuously achieving in the last 20 years with hitting targets, it’s amazing. We become more efficient and greener.

Do you sense the rivalry in the car business softening as you all recognise the need to move forward with the hybrid technology? Or is that naïve?

No, it’s not naive. Competition is what drives improvement, the more competition we have the better we all become. The inevitable was seen a while ago, that for us to have a sustainable planet we have to find alternative energy sources. Electrical power is the logical way to go. We are all going in the right direction because it makes sense.

What’s the next step?

The real development will be in batteries. That technology is going to grow very, very quickly. We all have an anxiety and an obsession about our phones running out of charge, it’s an insecurity, so imagine putting that in an electric car.

Do you remember when you first heard the phrase ‘hybrid car’?

About 10 years ago we started talking about how hybrid cars should work and what they should do.

What was the reaction?

The debate raged. We all had opinions. But everybody understood that alternatives were required. Here’s a bit of history: Porsche in the 1800s developed a hybrid car called the Lohner that had electric motors on each wheel, so this is not brand new stuff, it just didn’t make sense at the time. Today there’s a clear strategy for us as a brand: internal combustion engines at the very top end, internal combustion engines with plug in hybrid, and then a big electric environment – that’s our future and our long term strategy to 2025.

How detailed are these plans?

We have a document that goes to 2025 and beyond.

Will you stick to it?

You have to be flexible. Who knows, there could be some political dispensation that creates nuclear war because of the way we’re behaving globally at the moment. But right now we’re sticking to it rigorously. We’re working in detail on the next generation of cars that will hit roads seven years from now. The engineers and strategists are already looking at cars beyond that.

Let’s talk about noise. What happens when you turn on your hybrid Panamera in the morning?

Nothing! You turn the key and… nothing. This is a debate that’s going to rage for a long time: should there be an electric sound?

And what is that? Is it a chicken chirping?

The Porsche has a distinct clattering noise that’s very exciting. I can hear a Porsche from miles away and tell you what engine it is. Then turbos came along and customers like that sound because it’s the future. There are three elements to the sound of a road car: road, mechanical, wind. Every single car has that. With hybrid we’ll still have wind and road noise, but…

You’re missing a noise?

Yep, what is the other noise? Maybe an electric car doesn’t have a noise.

Dude, it’s incredible how these things accelerate. It’s like taking an elastic band and, ping!
Will car makers create an artificial noise?

There’s a big discussion about that. There’s legislation in some parts of the world that electric cars must be heard so pedestrians can hear it.

You’ll create fake noise?

Fake in inverted commas because it’s taking sounds that are being generated by the car and amplifying them to about 30 decibels so that a granny walking her dog doesn’t get run over. Now the discussion is whether we create a noise internally and externally. Half the joy of driving an internal combustion engine is how it sounds inside and how it makes you feel and the vibrations in your butt. We spend months pontificating about how cool our cars sound.

Psychologically, when you drive a hybrid, does it still feel like you’re driving a car?

Very much so. Dude, it’s incredible how these things accelerate. It’s like taking an elastic band and, ping! With an electric motor you have 100 per cent torque immediately and it’s the most exhilarating experience. It’s completely quiet, you put your foot down and…whoosh!

How long have you been with Porsche?

Fourteen years. I remember on my first day I was greeted by a guy who apologetically said we only have one car available for you. It was a yellow 997 Carrera S manual. I told him, ‘Don’t apologise! I love it.’ I was obsessed by that car. I love my job. If I ever wake up in the morning and I’m not looking forward to coming to work, well, then…. I should do something else.