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Arno Bohn – The Porsche Outsider

Arno Bohn at Weissach with the 968 Cabriolet
Arno Bohn at Weissach with the 968 Cabriolet (1991)

Arno Bohn was managing director of Porsche from 1990-92. An outsider who came from the computer industry, he arrived at a company seared by falling sales and riven by internal division about future direction. He left a Porsche which though still weak, had a new 911, the 993, in the wings and had conceived the 986/996 platform, a strategy which would be the beginning of its salvation. Until now (2018), Arno Bohn has not spoken about his time at Porsche, but though he never returned to the auto industry, he has nonetheless retained a keen interest in it.

Arno Bohn
Arno Bohn, 1989

The 1980s was a tumultuous decade for Porsche. It began with the cyclical ten year slump which had briefly affected the company both in the early 1960s and 70s, but then led to several years of unprecedented growth and prosperity. Under CEO Peter Schutz sales quadrupled over five years thanks largely to the steady appreciation of the US dollar. Much of the profit was ploughed into expanding R&D at Weissach where a wind tunnel, a dedicated crash test centre and 35 new engine test rigs were constructed. More and more of Weissach’s work came from external contracts, nevertheless in parallel Porsche developed its technical showpiece, the 959 and designed the successful F1 engine which in a McLaren chassis won several world championships. Times were good and undoubtedly less attention was paid to developing the 911 than would have been had the market been harder. And it would become harder: having soared from DM 1.8 in 1980 to DM 3.00 at one point in 1985, but the dollar then began an inexorable fall which would see it reach DM 1.60 by 1992. All auto manufacturers were affected to a lesser or greater degree, but as a far smaller operator heavily dependent on the US market, Porsche was hit especially hard. Peter Schutz asked to be released from his contract at the end of 1987, commenting ruefully in the face of collapsing profits that there was no ‘plan B’. Schutz was replaced by Porsche’s long-serving financial director, company loyalist Heinz Branitzki.

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