Porsche production chief Oliver Blume, 47, is a bone-fide VW man, having worked at Audi and Seat before becoming Volkswagen’s central production planner in 2009. He has headed production at Porsche since 2013, overseeing the development of the Macan SUV. He talked with Handelsblatt about Porsche’s place in the Volkswagen family and the importance of the company’s production workers in delivering that exclusive end result.
Handelsblatt: Congratulations, Mr. Blume, your contract was extended for five years.
Oliver Blume: Thank you very much.
The signing came at a turbulent time for your parent company Volkswagen, shortly after the departure of Ferdinand Piëch. Is there a connection?
Nothing should be interpreted from that. One had nothing to do with the other.
The head of production post in the VW Group management board is still unfilled. Do you still need a boss above you?
At Porsche, that’s not an issue for us – we work very well with our colleagues in the group.
And purely theoretically, what does a head of production for the group do?
One important task is the configuration of plants at a group level.
You already did production planning in Wolfsburg.
Now I am here in Stuttgart, I feel very comfortable and have a great team and many projects to manage. Our job is to build the best sports cars and we do that with great enthusiasm.
Porsche wants to win the toughest car race in the world this weekend, the 24 hours of Le Mans, for the first time since 1998. Will you be there?
Yes, to wish our team luck.
Video: Porsche team on the way to Le Mans 2015.
The 919 racecars of Le Mans are the closest predecessors of the sinfully expensive 918 Spyder. Now that production of them is ending, what will you do with the 100 specialists who built them?
We are proud that we have sold all of the cars— the exact number is 918 — earlier than expected. We can engage our highly qualified colleagues in diverse ways in the development center.
Your CEO Matthias Müller has indicated that there could be a purely electric sports car. Would that be a project for those who built the 918 cars?
We have many interesting projects in mind, and these specialists will be very important for us – we’ll see what we build.
By when will that be decided?
I don’t want to be specific about that. That is an ongoing process and we need to watch the market very closely. We are well underway with our hybrid vehicles. The 918 Spyder with two additional electric motors was an absolute pioneer in high technology. And naturally we are looking at how things progress with electrification.
How much freedom is there within the group? Could you also push through a fuel-cell vehicle?
First and foremost, the ability to come to an agreement is the advantage of such a large group. If we have an issue that is absolutely criticial for Porsche, then we will discuss that in the group and come to a decision. We do not go it alone. It is the group philosophy to use synergies with a close eye on the autonomy of the brand.
What is distinct about Porsche production?
The best manufacturing and series production, from the 918 Spyder in Zuffenhausen to the SUV Macan in Leipzig. No other manufacturer in the world has it to this degree. There are worlds between these two vehicles, but if you look at the details, their assembly follows the same principle – the same standards, but scaled in an intelligent form. For our customers it is important to have this level of customization present in larger series vehicles also.
Speaking of the Macan, how would we notice more handicraft or more individuality in comparison with the BMW X3, for example?
With us, no car is like another.
What do you have planned for the next five years?
I have a clear roadmap for Porsche’s strategy with my team. We want to set the standard for the production of exclusive sports cars worldwide.
What does that mean?
Our goals are divided into four areas: quality, efficiency, Porsche’s production system, and with the key focus on the people. The latter is a philosophy I personally stand behind. You can have good processes and technologies, but if you don’t have the right people, you won’t achieve anything.
Did you coordinate that sentence in advance with the chairman of the works committee, Uwe Hück?
Mr. Hück and I work very closely together. And we have very similar ideas on this point. But there are also issues we fight over. That is in the nature of things. In my previous jobs, individuality was very important. I am a team player and that simply goes along with that.
Back to the master plan.
We have derived ten clear measures from our master plan which we can use to determine at any time where we are. My concept of strategy is documenting a clear goal with concrete measures and implementing them with the entire team. The strategy also depends on the details. In the best-case scenario, you do not notice in day-to-day operations that you are implementing the strategy at the same time.
When you have visitors from external companies, who should be more amazed – Ferrari or Audi?
It is more important to me that the customer is amazed at what a high-quality vehicle he is getting.
And why does he receive it?
Porsche’s production stands for perfection and passion. Innovations play an important role in the advancement of our processes. As such, we not only have an eye on the trends in the automobile industry.
Whom are you watching?
With the new digitized technologies, the IT industry is naturally interesting to us. The networked Industry 4.0 is not something that will upend a company. But there will be a lot of advancement. Already today we are using tools controlled by sensor technology, and new methods in logistics, vehicle control systems or in quality management.
How are things looking with the new robots that can work hand-in-hand with people?
Robots offer enormous opportunities with respect to ergonomics, with activities involving heavy lifting, in difficult to reach locations or with very monotonous work. But the machine will always only be a helper to people.
So there will not be a factory without people?
No, I am convinced of that. Especially not at Porsche. I personally guarantee that. Because Porsches are made by people for people. I can also not imagine that across the automobile industry as a whole.
Is that because you come from a company shaped by Ferdinand Piëch, where you run a hand over the fender and check gap dimensions?
A car is an emotional thing. I want to climb into a car that has been perfectly crafted.
This year Porsche will likely produce more than 200,000 cars for the first time. If Porsche becomes a mass product, will it lose its legendary status?
First and foremost, volume plays no role for us. What matters are the numerous possibilities for customization.
Is customization dependent on quantity?
Not directly. Customization will increase in the future. Our customers fulfill a dream when they buy a Porsche and they want individuality.
Your accessories catalogue surely won’t grow purely for the customers’ benefit, but rather because Porsche can earn significantly from it.
That’s true. There’s an advantage for both. High margins for us, and a broad spectrum of options for the customers.
As the head of production, you’re being measured on productivity. How do things look?
Since I have been at Porsche, the goal has been at 6 percent per year. So far we have fulfilled that or, to be precise, we have over-fulfilled it. And that will be the goal for the coming years. Productivity is often derived from other areas. In the end, work needs to be done more efficiently, not faster.