Up until the PzKpfw IV tank design, the German Army had always favored a balance between mobility, armor, and firepower, however, studies for designs focusing on certain elements existed, such as a project that started in 1937 for a new heavy tank design which did not have any production schedule associated with it.
When the front line tankers reported that they were unexpectedly and significantly outgunned by new Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks, army leadership looked into its heavy tank programs with a renewed interest, seeking a specialized tank design that would focus on armor and firepower, while having a powerful engine so that mobility would not be sacrificed. On 26 May 1941, shortly prior to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the firms Henschel and Porsche were already requested to submit designs for such a heavy tank by Jun 1942; the discovery of advanced Soviet tanks pushed the deadline date to 20 Apr.
During this time, Ferdinand Porsche nicknamed this project "Tiger", which would evolve into a common name for the resulting project. Henschel's VK4501(H) design defeated Porsche's VK3001(P) design to win the contract. Henschel's design, which would later be designated Panzerkampfwagen VI or Tiger I, called for between 97 and 120 millimeter of armor on the front of the tank and 8.8-centimeter dual purpose guns as the primary weapon. These upgrades meant that, as combat experiences would soon show, these soon-to-be-deployed heavy tanks could penetrate the armor of enemy tanks at a long range where the enemy tanks' guns would not be able to penetrate that of the Tiger I tanks.
While the heavy weight of the Tiger I design indeed took away from the performance, the Maybach engine still provided the Tiger tank competitive mobility. In fact, Tiger I heavy tanks could typically travel off-road in comparable speeds as the American M4 Sherman and Soviet T-34/85 tanks (Tiger I 20-25 kilometers per hour, M4 Sherman 17-32 km/h, T34/85 19 km/h), had a tighter turning radius (Tiger I 3.44 meters, M4 Sherman 18.6m, T-34/85 unknown), and had a lower ground pressure (Tiger I 0.735 kilograms per square centimeter, M4 Sherman 0.96 kg/cm2, T-34/85 0.85 kg/cm2). One notable weight-related weakness for the Tiger I heavy tank design was its inability to travel over many bridges; to address that issue, they were designed to be able to converted to wade through rivers up to 1.5 meters deep without a snorkel and 4 meters deep with a snorkel (the snorkel was deleted in later variants to reduce cost).
Production for the design, initially called PzKpfw VI Ausf. H, began in Aug 1942, and units were deployed to the field without extensive testing due to war demands, thus revisions were frequent, which slowed down production. Some of the revisions to the design included the removal of the frontal armor shield (Apr 1942), addition of bolted mudguards, addition of smoke discharge canisters (Aug 1942), and changing bolted mudguards to removable mudguards (Sep 1942). The designation later changed to PzKpfw VI Ausf. E in Mar 1943.