While browsing early reviews of the new Porsche Macan, which is expected to be delivered to its first customers around April 2014, I came across the official unveiling of the car by Porsche on YouTube. The event took place at the LA Auto Show earlier this year. And it had me hooked for a full twenty-seven minutes. Not particularly due to my interest in the first launch of an ‘entirely-new’ car in the Porsche family but more because the presentation was, among others, an exercise in brand promotion as opposed to a product launch, a camouflaged apology for not producing a sports car, and a presentation that evoked memories of presentations of suits, handbags and expensive watches more than it did of cars. Porsche has come a long way.
Apologies for not unveiling another sports car were so profuse that I was expecting an apology for the engine not being air-cooled and for the car having a front mounted engine. But why? It is evident that Porsche are apologetic towards the purists when at the end of the day the numbers have shown clearly that were it not for the sales of the Panamera and the Cayenne over the past decade it is doubtful whether Porsche would have survived as a company. The 911 is no longer the most successful model of Porsche and the latest iterations of the Cayman and the Boxster are seen by many as probably another nail in the 911’s elusive coffin if ever there was one. They have ‘grown out of the 911’s shadow’ as most car journalists put it, and they are ‘sports cars in their own right’. Here lies the intrinsic ‘problem’ in my view. Car journalists, so called ‘purists’, and the 911’s racing heritage ironically proved to be the biggest obstacle Porsche has had to surmount for a very long time. Victims of their own success. The 911 was always the car against which any Porsche was measured. It was also the measure against which different iterations of the 911 were measured, criticized, vilified and slandered. In summary, Porsche has had to justify its actions every time the car they produced was a non air-cooled 911. And of late they also need to justify the introduction of an electric steering, start-stop and any form of technology which does not add bhp and is designed to reduce Porsche’s carbon foot-print. Ironically, of all the people I know who criticize Porsche in this respect, none of them owns an air-cooled 911. Not even one.
And as I watched the launch of the Macan, I saw apologies all over again. ‘The sportiest car in the segment’. ‘The car that will sit beside the 911 in your garage’. ‘The steering wheel is from the 918 Spyder’. Porsche, the market shows that there is a need for a sporty, powerful SUV. A device which can hold a thousand songs in your pocket existed way before you launched your iPod. We know we want the Macan with all our hearts – just give it to us.
What strikes me most is that the presentation emphasized mostly, transparently and unashamedly on the brand. Brand Porsche. The new font, the brand ambassadors, the emphasis on the styling, the JLResque driving onto the stage and the ‘Evoqueness’ of the whole show. This presentation was far less about the way the car drives and more about the statement, the brand and associated desirability. The hand gesture associated with Harvey Specter showing the Macan at the top and the competition somewhere below. If Posh Spice had not been snapped up by JLR I am sure she would have replaced Sharapova on that stage.
More and more people are buying into Porsche for the brand rather than for the history, heritage and sportive DNA of the car. And Porsche knows this and actually makes claims to this effect in the launch of the Macan. And why not at the end of the day? At the end of the day the purists don’t prevent a company from dying. The purists don’t pay the bills. And the purists won’t be employing hundreds of thousands of people if the company goes bust.
Admittedly, this was a bold and risky step for Porsche to take. Three steps marked Porsches departure from the air-cooled 911 in recent history (excluding the 944 and the 924). The first was the decision in 1996 to kill the air-cooled legend and replace it with the super-controversial, ‘fried-egg’ lights, 996 water-cooled 911. The second was to appeal to a wider audience by offering a ‘more affordable’ sports car – the 986 Boxster in the same year. And the third was the even bolder decision in my view to depart from the sports car market altogether by producing the ‘mid-size luxury cross-over’ Cayenne in 2002. The Boxster combined mid-engined handling coupled with the popularity of convertibles and was therefore a successful sports car. Very Porschesque. But in the case of the Cayenne, Porsche showed signs of piggy-backing on the brand to appeal to ‘status-buyers’. It was arguably less about the car and far more about the brand. Porsche Design extended its range and started producing cars. Not the other way round. And hell it worked.
With the Macan, again Porsche decided to go the whole hog and to appeal to a far wider range of customers and interestingly for the first time to launch a product which evidently aims to increase the number of female customers. Female Porsche buyers already account for around 15% of Porsche sales and I’m positive that the Macan will push that % further up over the next two years. Porsche expects to sell over 65,000 Macans over the first year and my bet would be that close to half of those cars will be sold to or driven by women. This car is as metrosexual as the Evoque only it has an impressive engine line up and even more impressive numbers. The performance figures (sub-5 second 0-60 for the Turbo) put most wannabe sports cars and hot hatches to shame and my I put my money on the fact that the Macan Turbo will be faster than most boy-racers, sports cars and hot-hatches not only on and off the road but also around most tracks. So what if it isn’t a 911? So what if it isn’t a ‘proper Porsche?’ What is a ‘Proper Porsche’ at the end of the day and who am I to define it?
Dylan has turned electric. Judas they called him on that night in 1966. But his response was to call the crowd liars, turn to the band, and to tell them to ‘play it fu**n loud”. He didn’t apologise. And neither should you Porsche.