Thursday, October 12, 2017

The (slight, but real-ish) Connection Between Ferdinand Porsche and Quebec

I live in Quebec, therefore, this little story gave me a momentary warm tingle, and it proves that 'six degrees of separation' is absolutely real. Below I speculate about various connections, but I think that what I have written is not that far off.

First, you should read this post - link: The Ultimate Porsche Enthusiast, because in it I discuss a subject that is central to the story that follows. In one way, I confess, this story is an extension of part of that story.

Since you have an interest in Porsches, and you read the post I asked you to read above, you already know that Ferdinand Porsche, at the age of 24 in the year 1900, developed and built a functional hybrid-electric automobile, called the Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus Mixte Hybrid. Quite a name. Prior to this Ferdinand was responsible for non-hybrid electric cars at Lohner, with those cars appearing in 1898.

Here is a small summary of details of this period: Ferdinand was not responsible for the world's first electric car (in various forms they had been around for many decades before our hero was even born); but he built the first hybrid-electric car; the first car with an electric starter; the world's first four wheel drive car; the world's first car with four wheel brakes - and the world's first car with the Porsche name associated with it (partly), plus, maybe, the world's first front wheel drive car, but I'm not certain of this last point. This is not shabby when you remember that Ferdinand had virtually no engineering education; he started working at Lohner as a very young man, and already his cars were way too expensive. Clever boy, though.

An early, front-drive Lohner-Porsche electric. © Porsche (?)

But, the hybrid cars won various races and set speed records (with Ferdinand driving, but also at the hands of E.W.Hart, in England - Hart was the first customer for Porsche's efforts), and Ferd had a rollicking good time.

However, here is an important aside: The aforementioned customer, the English coachbuilder Mr. Hart, in England, after expressing his interest in purchasing a Lohner-Porsche electric car, required significant modifications to it. His vehicle was to be capable of running on gasoline plus electricity, it needed to carry four passengers (the cars pictured above and down below appear to have a solitary driver in the center, in front), and Hart demanded four-wheel drive. Oh? Modern Porsche AG, and everybody else seem to make the claim that Ferdinand invented the hybrid-electric car, and all else mentioned above. But whose ideas were these anyway? Doesn't it appear that Hart played a big hand in defining the hybrid car, while Porsche dutifully carried out the execution of Hart's concepts?

Additional refinements worked their way into the Lohner-Porsche Mixte-Hybrid as it was constructed, but from evidence generally available the basic and original hybrid idea does not appear to have popped out of Ferdinand's head 100% by itself.

Anyway, that first hybrid vehicle weighed 4 tonnes, it had primitive balloon tires that blew out as a result of that weight, and it broke down a lot. Plus, it cost 15,000 Austrian Crowns, which translates into US$193,467 as of 2017. Value for the dollar involves an abstract discussion here, but it was a start.

Moving to an unrelated but somehow comparable subject, many years later Porsche was sued by the Czech company, Tatra, for ripping-off the design of Tatra's V570  automobile (and other models). The 570 had an air-cooled, four cylinder boxer motor, rear-engine, and was a two-door, aerodynamic economy car that looked remarkably like a Volkswagen. The case was settled after WWII when VW paid Tatra 1,000,000 DM in an out of court settlement. Is there a pattern here?

Tatra V570
Back to our story: Being ambitious, in 1906, after 300 electric+ powered vehicles were produced at Lohner, Ferdinand went on to join the Österreichische Daimler Motoren Commanditgesellschaft Bierenz, Fisher & Co., and, ultimately, Daimler-Benz, where as chief designer he produced newer versions of hybrids, and other creative cars - think Mercedes-Benz SS/SSK. Also, he designed aircraft engines during WWI.

This is Porsche's reproduction of the Semper Vivus, two wheel drive. (© Porsche)

Never mind all of that. This post is supposed to be about the tenuous connection between Ferdinand and Quebec. Part of that connection, probably all of it really, has to do with Porsche's influence on his early employer, Lohner-Werke of Vienna, Austria. After Ferdinand's departure, Lohner didn't just sit on its laurels, building luxury horse-drawn coaches and the like.

On we find:

"Lohner, the Company Which Grew Porsche

"Lohner was a successful company, and built front-engined fire engines for Vienna, Frankfurt and London. The company also boasted the production of every single bus in Berlin at the time. On top of this, Porsche's electrical technology was utilised by Lohner to create electrical goods vans and trucks, and the company spread out to the aircraft industry, and even produced coaches for the Austrian royal family. 

"The Lohner-Porsche was a much-referenced design when NASA [plus Boeing, see below] came to create the Lunar Rover for driving upon the surface of the moon, and many of the design innovations can be seen mirrored in the only car driven outwith [outside of] the Earth's atmosphere. Toyota and many other major manufacturers are producing hybrid concepts and production vehicles which use Porsche's pioneering technology, and design houses are experimenting with the 'in-hub' engine layout to this day. Although produced over 100 years ago [117 years, as I write this], the car has more significance than ever."

Lohner gave Porsche his first chance to develop some of his own fantastic ideas, among others. 

So, what else did Lohner do after Herr F. Porsche left? In addition to what is mentioned above, during the early 1900s the firm manufactured aircraft for WWI, after the war Lohner manufactured trams, and after World War II the company began manufacturing scooters and mopeds using engines from Rotax, and it merged with this company in 1959, to become Lohner Rotax. It still builds trams, too, in its association with Bombardier (see below).

Meanwhile, in Quebec, Joseph-Armand Bombardier invented the snowmobile in the 1930's - a large version not seen today. Ultimately called the 'Ski-Doo', they were powered using Rotax engines, made in Austria by Lohner-Rotax. 'Ski-Doos', in the small size we see today, began in production in 1959.  

In 1970 the Quebec firm Bombardier, Inc., the Ski-Doo builder, purchased a controlling share in the company and renamed it Bombardier-Rotax GmbH. Bombardier would not have noticed Lohner were it not for its developmental history, including airplane building - and tram building (powered by electricity), since Bombardier was then producing electric subway trains. Ferdinand Porsche's influence on the Lohner company was significant, with some arguing that his ideas lifted (an admittedly successful luxury horse coach builder) into far broader evolutionary realms, causing it to build sundry other types of vehicles - to this day.

A modern Bombardier 'Flexity' tram. (© Bombardier)

And now, Bombardier isn't just in the snowmobile business, either. It builds airplanes, and many other types of vehicles, too. You may have recently noticed in the business news that a Bombardier medium-size airplane, the 'C' series, was subjected to a 300% import duty by the US government, effectively eliminating it from the US market. Boeing claimed that the C series competed with it unfairly - never mind that Boeing doesn't make a plane of this size. Unfair, Boeing said, because Bombardier received subsidies from the government in Canada. At the same time Boeing has received huge subsidies from the government in the USA, but this has been ignored in the US and the duty remains.

A Bombardier 100+/- passenger C series, made in Quebec, with parts from elsewhere in Canada, too. (© Bombardier)

Turning full circle, we connect back to Europe again. Airbus purchased a 50.01% interest in the Bombardier C series planes, thereby effectively making it a new company. It will build the C series in Mobile, Alabama, forget any 300% import duty; they won't be imported any more. People in Quebec don't like losing control of the C series, but Bombardier designed it and will still make plenty of money on the planes that it builds in Canada for the world market.

EDIT This item was reported in the news at 14:50 EST, 26 January, 2018:

"MONTREAL — Bombardier Inc. won a resounding victory Friday when the U.S. International Trade Commission eliminated nearly 300 per cent in duties on its C Series commercial jet by unanimously voting against a petition filed by Boeing Co.
Commissioners voted 4-0 that Boeing didn't suffer harm from prospective imports of C Series planes. . ."

So, there you go. Bombardier and Airbus will continue to refine their relationship.

Okay, that's all wheeling and dealing, but the faint connection of Ferdinand Porsche stimulating Lohner to some form of accomplishment remains. I said it was a tenuous association.

In reality, Porsche was good for Lohner, and Lohner was good for Porsche. And, therefore, Porsche was good for Quebec, if you follow the chain of events described above. Porsche thrives as a company, Bombardier thrives, everybody is happy. Boeing, maybe not so much.

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