Barbara Frenkel is head of purchasing at Porsche AG and the first woman to serve on the company’s Board of Management. She is also responsible, among other functions, of e-fuels. For all these reasons, he is one of the key people in the great current success of the German brand.
After the problems suffered due to lack of supply, is Porsche production already restored? What have you learned from this crisis?
This year the situation with suppliers is much more stable than in previous years, especially with semiconductors, whose supply is more secure. The improvement is due to the fact that we have learned a lot from the crisis and in recent years we have further strengthened the relationship with our main suppliers, making long-term agreements. In addition, we have established a new risk management system, essential for optimal operations. We evaluate our suppliers, their location, the materials they use and we use Artificial Intelligence. This way we quickly detect where there may be problems in the supply chain so we can anticipate. And we closely monitor the processes of just-in-time suppliers, such as those for seats, to guarantee a supply according to our needs.
Does your purchasing policy focus on European suppliers?
Our purchasing business is global, although the majority of our suppliers are in Europe. To put it in figures, Porsche’s purchasing volume this year will be more than 14 billion euros. But the transformation of the automobile industry, from combustion cars to electric cars, requires new suppliers, also those related to software. For example, we work with the Israeli company MobilEye dedicated to autonomous driving. Or in Chile, where together with HIF we are developing our ambitious e-fuels project. It is important for us to have the best partners and the best long-term relationship with them.
Does Porsche work with Spanish suppliers?
The good thing is that we have very strong suppliers in Spain and Portugal. And I am very proud of it. We have not only Spanish companies that manufacture in Spain but there are also international companies that have Spanish production plants. Spain is a great power in the automotive sector, it has a large automobile industry and a strong supplier industry.
The electric car is only part of the reduction of emissions. How does Porsche address decarbonization in mobility?
Decarbonization is one of the strategic objectives of our company. There are two important ways to achieve this decarbonization. The first is to transform combustion engine vehicles into electric vehicles and the second is to reduce CO2 emissions throughout the supply chain. The main lever to achieve this reduction is in the batteries of electric vehicles. The second is based on the reduction of emissions in the production of our materials, such as aluminum and steel. For this reason, we ask our main suppliers, around 1,300, to use renewable energy to produce our parts.
How does Porsche organize the supply of batteries, which are key in electric vehicles?
Our battery strategy is based on three pillars. First of all, we work with the best Asian battery suppliers, with several. Secondly, we carry out prevention strategies: if in the future we may find ourselves with a lower supply of raw materials for said batteries, due to greater demand, we identify that situation and in this way we can ensure the supply of said components. The third pillar is Cellforce Group, a subsidiary of Porsche. We are developing high-performance batteries for our high-performance models. To do this, we are building a battery factory near Stuttgart (Germany) that will be operational in 2024.
Brussels will prohibit the sale of combustion cars from 2035. Will Porsche meet these deadlines?
The answer is yes. We are totally committed to electromobility. At the moment we have the Taycan as our first electric car, it is also a great success and it is a beautiful car. Next year we will launch the electric Macan and then the other product lines will follow. Our goal is that by 2030 more than 80% of our vehicles will be 100% electric. The 911 will continue to be manufactured with a combustion engine as long as our customers demand it and it is possible by legislation. We are developing the so-called double e strategy: electromobility and e-fuels.
Do you think the European Union has made a mistake by imposing such a drastic restriction on combustion cars?
The reason why Europe has made that decision is to be a leader in reducing emissions and we at Porsche and the Volkswagen group are fully aligned with the decarbonization policy. When it is possible to have green energy is when we will have to really invest in electromobility. European manufacturers are putting very good electric cars on the market and I am convinced that Europe can meet this challenge. Last October we celebrated the production of the 100,000th Taycan and it is a very successful car. In the case of Spain, Porsche plans to sell more electric cars than combustion cars by 2025.
The battery supply basically comes from Asia at the moment. When will Europe be able to manufacture its own batteries?
As a purchasing manager I would like to have a battery supply chain also in Europe. To do this we need to join forces, regulators, governments and manufacturers, to establish a complete battery supply chain in Europe. All this to be able to offer materials, refining and production in European territory. For combustion vehicles we have the complete supply chain in the Old Continent and we have to ensure that it can be the same with electric vehicles. What’s more, the Volkswagen Group is making strong investments in Europe to install battery factories, one of them in Valencia.
You are the first woman to join the Porsche Board of Management. Do you think the path has been more difficult for you than if you had been a man?
I cannot speak about the differences with respect to what the other members of the Council have had to do, because I do not know what they have done to achieve it. I am very grateful and proud that they have chosen me to develop this role. Throughout my entire career, I have had many moments of being the first at something. I hope to inspire other women to follow my example and reach important positions in the automotive industry. I am promoting the presence of women in the company, I serve as a mentor and I am opening doors. But it should also be noted that at Porsche there are no gifts, performance is essential. In the company there are 19% women, but in my purchasing department the percentage is around 40%. It is not enough, we must achieve more variety, but not only in women and men, but also with different cultures or nationalities. Better results are achieved with a more diverse team.