Porsche Builds Macan Crossover To Win Over Women

Mitja Borkert was 15 years old before he saw a Porsche. In the 1980s, his East German hometown of Herzberg was full of Trabants and Wartburgs, which were not fast or well-built and did nothing to raise the pulse of a teenage boy. In 1989 the Wall came down and the parents of a friend of Borkert’s bought a 911. “He came and picked me up, and I was hooked immediately,” he remembers. “The acceleration, the sound. It really kicked me.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that ride—and that swift little waterbug of a car—set the trajectory of Borkert’s life. Just eight years later, in 1997, he had an internship at Porsche and a year after that a job at the company’s design center in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Borkert didn’t know at the time that his biggest contribution as a designer would have nothing to do with the sleek two-seaters he’d drawn in his notebooks as a teenager. Within a few years he was working on an updated version of the Cayenne, an SUV that excelled at two things: annoying Porsche purists, who consider the 911 a sacred vessel, and making money. Carrying fat profit margins and a new class of customers, the Cayenne took Porsche to the top of the car world in 2003. In the five years after the vehicle hit dealerships, Porsche’s total sales rose by 80 percent. Contrary to many predictions, the Cayenne didn’t water down the brand; it strengthened it.

By early 2011 roughly one in two Porsches sold was a Cayenne. The experiment was so successful that Porsche decided to do it again, this time with a smaller SUV. It would be a crossover, a segment for which aficionados harbor a special hate. It’s a class too small to have much utility, yet too large to drive particularly well. “It’s kind of the antithesis of what sports cars are supposed to be all about,” says Bill Visnic, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com.

The crossover, known under the code name Cayjun, for Cayenne Junior, was three years in the making and finally rolled into dealerships in April as the Macan. Named after the Indonesian word for tiger, and starting at $49,900, it brings the company into one of the most crowded corners of the auto market and draws it further away from its sports car roots; metaphorically speaking, its development was a journey from the Nürburgring test track to the Whole Foods parking lot. “We make these decisions all the time and they polarize people,” says Bernhard Maier, a master mechanic in charge of sales and marketing. “But once you get the experience, no matter what model you are driving, you feel immediately: ‘Yes, this is a Porsche.’ ”

If the strategy succeeds without alienating the brand’s current customers, the spoils largely go to Volkswagen (VOW:GR); the longtime Porsche production partner acquired slightly more than half the company in 2012. Porsche is now by far the most profitable company in Volkswagen’s family of brands, offering volume that VW can’t realize with its Lamborghinis and Bentleys and profit that it doesn’t find in its Audis (NSU:GR) or its Jettas and Passats.

(Bloomberg Businessweek)

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