Last week, Porsche unveiled the 2014 911 Targa. For those unfamiliar, the “Targa” (named after Targa Florio, a famous Italian race) was a concept introduced in 1966 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) almost banned convertibles due to high fatality rates during roll-overs. In a few short months, the 1967 Targa, was quickly commercialized with a removable roof panel and distinctive stainless steel roll bar, and was marketed as the world’s first “safety cabriolet.” It was a neat concept, but not the greatest execution.
(Source: EuropepeanCarWeb, PorscheUSA)
Porsche, which relied heavily on convertible sales in the US market, needed a design in its back pocket just in case regulators forced auto manufacturers to implement a change. The thought was, on sunny days, the clunky removable targa-plate roof section could be manually removed with a partner, and stowed away in the “frunk.” (The Nine-Eleven has a trunk in the front.) The top proved to be a pain to manipulate. Most owners removed the roof, and simply didn’t drive the car on rainy days. Later models had variations on the top panel that allowed them to collapse to 2/3rds the size for easier storage. Many automotive writers argued that the Targa could never be as good as a hard top for racing….and could never put the wind in your hair like a convertible. When put through a car wash, the top leaked like a sieve. The top’s material would fade and discolor. The latches would rattle. The Targa was a car with an identity crisis and usage issues. It was essentially a design compromise that was doomed from the start.
By the 1970’s, when the potentially damning legislation banning convertibles never came to pass, Porsche planned to shut down Targa production. After all, if convertibles weren’t going to be banned, why should customers settle for a design compromise? For all intensive purposes, the Targa never should have lasted more than a few years. …however, people continued to buy the Targa variants, thus preserving its automotive relevance. Why, you ask?
Well, it turns out the Targa was a beneficiary of unintended consequences. Although the Targa body style added a little weight, its rear window was larger than a convertible’s, providing improved visibility. With the roof off, the big glass rear screen offers wind protection (especially for children) and provided diagonal belts in the back seats (Yes a 911 can seat four people.) It had much less wind noise than a convertible while harnessing the right types of engine noises and vibrations within the cockpit, thus improving the overall driver ‘feel’ and experience.
The basic Targa layout remained unchanged until the 1990’s with the introduction of the 996 and 997 models. These models introduced a snazzy, high tech retractable glass panel akin to an over-sized “sun roof,” but they didn’t provide that quintessential Targa profile with the shiny B-pillar and gap in the roof line. From the side, the models appeared identical to the coupes. They were hard to differentiate. Many automotive enthusiasts, considered these design iterations sacrilegious. The technology over-reached at the expense of the design aesthetics. It was a low point in Targa design.
But with the new 2014 version’s “pop up” Targa roof system (see 47s in video), Porsche did a fantastic job injecting technology, while simultaneously harkening back to the days of old. The profile of the car is as it was in 1967. You can clearly see the shiny roll bar on the B pillars. The technology isn’t interfering with the aesthetic experience. Elegant automation, new materials, and innovative systems have allowed a new way to more effectively serve the same purpose while evoking those vintage lines in the modern version. And it is those vintage lines and the “coolness” factor of the pop up roof that differentiate the car. To my knowledge, Porsche is the only company to have a “real” Targa in its line up. The Targa is cool again.
R&D IT groups could learn from this- Not the blind allegiance to a brand (e.g. software vendor) , or the embrace of technology for technology’s sake (e.g. big data analytics)…….but that old ideas can benefit from new, enabling technologies. Likewise, new technologies can provide solutions to old problems when applied correctly, and create differentiating experiences for customers. Also, sometimes the technology over-reaches at the expense of purpose. Figuring out how to align and embrace the technology with the mission in mind is essential, but we also have to watch for unintended consequences and benefits. It just requires some innovative thinking to make sure the best possible user experience is within reach.
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