FRANKFURT -- Alexander Hitzinger, a 49-year-old engineer who defected to Apple after helping to develop Porsche's winning 919 racecar, is back at Volkswagen Group for perhaps his biggest challenge yet -- building an electric car to take on Tesla.
VW has been rolling out electric vehicles from the ID3 compact hatchback to the high-end Porsche Taycan but analysts say the company needs a more comprehensive system that integrates electric power with new self-driving and infotainment technologies if it hopes to overtake Tesla.
It has turned to Hitzinger, whose ability to conceptualize clean-sheet designs and manage projects helped Porsche develop a racecar that won the Le Mans endurance race in 2015, 2016, 2017.
After a stint working on Apple's autonomous cars and leading VW Group's autonomous driving program, Hitzinger now heads Project Artemis named after the Ancient Greek goddess of hunting, with the aim of chasing down electric car pioneer Tesla.
Markus Duesmann, CEO of Audi, which is responsible for Project Artemis, earlier this year picked Hitzinger to lead the Artemis team.
Hitzinger was named an Automotive News Europe Rising Star in 2014 when he worked for Porsche.
"At Porsche, I always thought of a vehicle as a comprehensive system. This is a very important point. It is what Tesla does well," he told Reuters in a video interview.
The task of building a car has gotten more complex with the advent of electric and autonomous driving technologies, forcing new battery-driven powertrains to compete for electricity with camera, radar, and lidar sensors, plus infotainment systems.
Rather than stitching together separately designed systems, Artemis wants to create something new and seamlessly integrated, from the ground up, Hitzinger said. "The idea behind Artemis is to have a comprehensive understanding of the vehicle. When something is optimized, this has knock-on effects and these need to be understood."
Allocating processing power between propulsion, automated driving and infotainment systems such as satellite navigation and music streaming is a key challenge, he said.
But it's not the only one.
"The human-machine interface, the interior design, the exterior design, aerodynamics and the range are all interconnected. If I modify something on the exterior, it will impact the aerodynamics and the efficiency," Hitzinger said.
Volkswagen Group, whose brands range from budget Seats and Skodas to high-end Audis and Bentleys is now focusing on developing systems that can handle all these new demands.
Project Artemis is developing a flagship electric car codenamed Landjet for Audi, Porsche and Bentley, Handelsblatt business paper reported. The three-row, seven-seat vehicle will be built on a new production line at VW Group's factory in Hanover, Germany. It is due to be produced in 2024 and will make use of components developed for Porsche and Audi's premium electric vehicle platform, PPE.