The always-smiling Andreas Preuninger leads Porsche’s GT division, which makes cars with a fanatical, cult-like following among driving enthusiasts and weekend racers.
The GT3, GT2 and RS models are unashamedly hardcore, specialized and expensive. They buck the trend toward driver-assistance and hybridization – analog cars in a digital era.
And business is booming. Porsche has more GT series cars in its lineup than before, yet demand outpaces supply.
Porsche didn’t become the most profitable car company in the world by accident; it did it by giving people exactly what they want.
We spoke with Mr. Preuninger at the New York auto show in March.
How do you explain the current popularity of Porsche’s GT series cars?
Since 1999, when it began with the 996 GT3, the model line of GT cars has grown a lot and diversified: the GT2, RS models, now R and Touring versions. There seems to be a huge demand for these purist, analog cars, which we feel are very close to the brand’s core. And maybe that’s the importance of these cars. Despite being toys, hobby instruments – they’re not a means of transportation – they’re a reward for yourself, to enjoy driving, to drive for the sake of driving.
How are the GT cars close to the brand’s core?
If you go back 70 years, Porsche’s cars were always very motorsport-oriented. In those ancient times, we literally just put a licence plate on the race cars and slapped our hands, and that was it! It’s a little bit different today.
These days, Porsche sells more SUVs than sports cars. What role do the GT cars play now?
I tend to think that the only reason the 911 GT3 is there is because it’s so high-performance and so well-known for its ‘pole position,’ it does something good for the rest of the 911 range. It keeps the 911 as a very valuable model; it helps keep its attraction.
Do customers really drive these $200,000 Porsche GT cars on racetracks, at track days?
That was the new hobby, to go to the track. It was because cars got faster and faster, and it just made no sense, it was not socially acceptable any more to drive those cars on the open street. You’d end up in jail or in a coffin, so this track-day thing took off. In Germany, 15 years ago you could only go to the Nordschleife every other weekend, there was nothing else. Englishmen are a little bit more motorsport-focused historically and had a few more tracks open to the public. Europe copied that. So the need for sporty instruments like the GT series was greater than ever before. This was partially the reason for the success the GT3 RS models, of which 85 per cent are used regularly on the track.
Why did you ditch the manual transmission on the GT3 in 2013, only to bring it back last year in the updated model? Was it driven by demand?
We lost some enthusiasts along the way, who were really interested in this man-machine interface, in having a clutch pedal. We always understood that but we had to pick one transmission and sell that decision as best as we could. We just couldn’t find the resources to develop both [manual and PDK automatic] in parallel for the 991.1 GT3 – but we did on the second-generation, 991.2 GT3.
How popular is the manual transmission?
In the U.S., we have a 70 per cent take-rate for the manual on the GT3. Worldwide, it’s about 50 per cent. Funnily enough, in the [United States], where most of the people don’t know even how to operate a manual, it’s most popular. We have a very strong fan community for manuals.
Could the next generation of GT cars be electrified hybrids?
As long as our customers are so hot for GT cars as we’re doing now, why should we electrify them? The GT side of the 911 portfolio will not be the leaders in electrification. That would not make a lot of sense.
Not many companies could sell a $300,000 version of a $100,000 car, as Porsche does with the GT2 RS. It’s still based on the 911. Are GT cars big contributors to Porsche’s profitability?
It’s not like we’re making $180,000 of profit on that. Okay, it’s still a 911, but what’s wrong with that? It’s faster than any mid-engine car out there that’s competing. Look at Nuerburgring lap times. The justification of the price is always that you have huge development costs and huge part costs, which you have to lay down on only a few thousand cars. If we made 50,000 cars it would be much cheaper. Most of the GT car buyers are really long-term, loyal customers. They don’t jump from one brand to the next. They’re buying cars; they’re keeping the volume up.
How many GT series models did Porsche sell last year?
That’s something we don’t like to give away, but, say, at least 3,000-4,000 cars. The annual volume is rising, but by far not as much as the demand is rising for those cars. We still have to keep people wanting.
This interview has been condensed and edited.