With success often comes a stultifying mix of conservatism and complacency. The challenge for a car company is to keep reinventing itself and its products despite compelling urges to stand pat, to rest on one’s laurels.
This brings us to Porsche AG, one of the most successful car companies in the world. Some 20 years ago, the company had trouble selling a few thousand sports cars a year in North America. So it started to take chances; it modernized its lineup, fixed its quality and expanded the range to include four-door luxury hatchbacks (Panamera) and stunning SUVs (the Cayenne).
This is on my mind as I contemplate the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera ($93,700 for the 3.4-litre 911 Carrera and $110,000 for the 3.8-litre Carrera S). This is the seventh-generation version of the 911 and the first fully revamped one since 2004. A fine car it is, perhaps even a brilliant one, and it’s clearly the product of a smart company. But is it something from a daring one?
While Porsche is spectacularly profitable, the money is being made on Panameras and Cayennes and even smart hedging from time to time. I would have thought that generally declining sales of the iconic 911 would spur Porsche to become bold, to take big risks with its 2+2 performance flagship. I’d argue Porsche has, and will explain why.
Porsche has not been distracted by the upcoming compact SUV due in 2013. At least I don’t think so. Rather Porsche has learned from this soon-to-go-on-sale model.
Porsche does not seem overly troubled by the uncertainty over global fuel economy and emissions regulations, congestion surcharges and the like, either. All these are just part of doing business and the genius of this German car company – all German car companies – lies in the obsession with creating and executing detailed plans.
The plan here was to create a 2012 911 for aging, global buyers. The result is an excellent automobile. This car is daring, even ground-breaking in its own way, despite some grumbling that it has morphed into a GT or grand touring car – that this 911 has outgrown its sports car roots.
Those roots run deep, too. The first 911 arrived in 1963 and it evolved from the Porsche 356, the company’s first production vehicle designed by Ferry Porsche in 1948. Six generations have since been built, with some 700,000 sold worldwide.
But the company has evolved and the facts suggest Porsche knows what it’s doing.
Porsche’s operating profit was up 25 per cent (to €1.51-billion) in the January-to-September period, while revenue leapt ahead 20 per cent (to €7.93-billion) and deliveries were up 31 per cent to 90,972 cars. Porsche is successful, despite the gloom in Europe and the United States.
The numbers also say that Porsche is definitely not a sports car company, or at least not exclusively one. Through September, the 911 model posted a 12 per cent sales decline to 13,777 vehicles. What’s moving? The Cayenne was Porsche’s best-selling model in the period, with 43,924 sold. That’s a stunning 74 per cent jump on the year. The Panamera also outsold the 911, with deliveries up 6 per cent to 18,750 cars.
If I am a Porsche executive, those results scream out “bigger is better” – that the big Cayenne and Panamera are driving Porsche’s growth and earnings.
I’d also take notice of China, Porsche’s most dynamic sales region. Sales there were up 82 per cent to 17,683 cars through September. North America was strong, with 22,307 cars sold for a 15 per cent increase, but China will pass North America very soon. Europe remains healthy, too, with sales up 11 per cent to 29,079 vehicles. But Porsche’s future – with the goal of annual sales topping 200,000 – is in China.
“Porsche’s chunky models have become the pillar of their success,” Stefan Bratzel, director of the Centre of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, recently told Bloomberg.
And they will remain so, even as the new 911 arrives next February in Canada. The big-is-better mentality has justifiably consumed Porsche’s thinking about the 911.
Chief executive officer Matthias Mueller told reporters at the Frankfurt auto show that the car is “enormously important for Porsche as it characterizes the brand” and the new 911 will “play a huge factor in our growth strategy.” That said, this car is nothing much like the first 911 of almost 50 years ago.
My bet is that the purists are going to be troubled by this 2012 version, but the market will go nuts. Despite the weight of success, I believe Porsche’s daring move here was not to stand pat with the 911, but to suffer the slings and arrows that come with knocking convention and conventional wisdom. Because if nothing else, this 2012 911 is big – 100 mm longer at the pivotal point, the wheelbase, and significantly wider at the front track, too.
It’s still every bit a speedster, too. The seventh-generation 911 has a top speed of 289 km/h, the company says, and the Carrera S with PDK accelerates to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds, 4.1 seconds with the launch control feature of the optional Sport Chrono package. The Carrera with PDK does the same sprint in 4.6 seconds, 4.4 seconds with Sport Chrono.
At 350 hp for the base car and 400 for the Carrera S, the car is more powerful and 45 kilograms lighter than its predecessor. Give thanks to a lot of aluminum bodywork for the weight loss. Porsche says the Jenny Craig treatment and various engineering advances, including a stop-start system, have reduced fuel consumption and emissions by as much as 16 per cent. All that in a much larger, more powerful car from the inside out.
If Porsche were looking for some advice from me, however, I’d suggest caution over growing the 911 any further.
This car is as big as any 911 should ever be. When it comes to sports cars, size matters – the rule of thumb being the smaller the better.