Porsche SUV's put off purists
STRAYING FROM ITS SUPERCAR HERITAGE: Despite great sales, the Cayenne (above) and Panamera sedan are scoffed at by Porsche purists. Do you think the brand will eventually split?
BERLIN, Germany - Manfred Wilke loves nothing more than speeding down the German Autobahn in his 911 coupe.
Looking at a 911 Carrera GTS with its R1.1-million price tag in Porsche's flagship showroom in Berlin, Wilke thinks only cars like the 911 deserve to carry the Porsche badge.
He's one of a number of Porsche purists who are appalled by the Stuttgart-based sports-car maker's aggressive push into the SUV and family sedan markets.
Nearly 50 years after the launch of the 911, its siblings, the Cayenne SUV and four-door Panamera, account for almost 75% of Porsche's sales and some customers fear the company is straying too far from its racing roots.
FOUR-DOOR CARS ARE KING
Wilke said: "Only delusional marketers could attempt to turn Porsche into an off-roader company. It's a flat-out insult to Porsche's image and fame."
Property manager Wilke is also disgusted by the Panamera: "The Panamera is too big and too compromised," he said. "It simply lacks the timeless fascination of a 911. That's what Porsche is all about."
The powerful 911, driven by Steve McQueen in the 1971 movie "Le Mans", has captivated and sometimes frightened fans for decades and came fifth in the 1999 Car of the Century awards. Its timeless design, refreshed in 2011, evolved from the Porsche 356 designed by Ferry Porsche in 1948, the automaker's first production car.
In 2012, bulky foor-door cars rule as demand for large luxury models outpaces the sports-car market. Porsche's next model is a compact SUV called the Macan which will go into production in 2013.
Willi Diez, head of the Institute for Automobile Industry in Nuertingen, said: "Even at Porsche, SUV's promise stronger growth than the classic two-door sports cars. The Cayenne, Macan and Panamera become the profit-laden springboard needed to develop the core Porsche stuff."
Diez predicts Porsche becoming a two-brand company with the 911 and its other sports cars sitting alongside a portfolio of top-end luxury models. Other marques such as Ferrari and Lamborghini have kept largely to sports cars, leaving their parents Fiat and Volkswagen to develop other types of vehicles.
Turning its focus from one of the world's most recognisable sports cars to the bulky Cayenne was not a natural progression, but a necessity if Porsche was to hit its targets.
Bolstered by its alliance with VW, Porsche aims to sell 200 000 cars a year by 2018, up from 117 000 in 2011. It wants to keep its return on sales above 15% after achieving 18.7% in 2011.
Sales of the Cayenne, which saves costs by sharing a platform with VW's Touareg and Audi's Q7, are expected to surge 40% in major vehicle markets to more than 52 000 vehicles by 2017 from 2010, research firm IHS Automotive predicts.
The Macan should hit almost 37 000 in its first five years and sales of the Panamera could jump 67% to 33 600. Porsche sold 17 607 911 units in 2011 and IHS expects a slower growth rate in the next five years of about 37%.
Porsche is spending R5.2-billion to expand its factory in the eastern German city of Leipzig, adding body and paint shops and a new assembly line to produce the Macan. Porsche also increased production of the Cayenne and the Panamera in January 2012.
Porsche's efforts to meet demand for upscale 4x4 vehicles has cost it the top spot in terms of its cars' perceived sporting image, according to a survey of 4000 consumers by Germany's ADAC automobile club whose analyst Marcus Krueger said:
"There seems to be a greater emphasis (at Porsche) on short-term sales gains at the expense of the famous brand's image."
Others said the overall Porsche brand was benefiting from the broader product range and the onus was on Porsche to keep the 911 at the top of its game.
Cassidy Morgan, head of Central and Eastern Europe at brand consultancy Interbrand, said: "Porsche still stands for luxury and performance but it is also important that flagship brands such as the 911 continue to convince through innovation."