Automotive. How Porsche was rescued thanks to an SUV

The story of the Cayenne begins with a study commissioned by Hans Riedel, Porsche’s sales manager at the time. The question is: “Can Porsche survive with only 911 and Boxster in the catalog?” »

After a few weeks, the answer falls from market research and it is final. To continue to exist in XXIe century, Porsche will have to diversify. The “only way for Porsche to find an upward slope without relying solely on the classic sports car market”.

A Porsche capable of crossing, a real challenge for engineers

What should the third Porsche look like?

The decision is made, the “third Porsche” project is launched. But which car should one offer?

Five alternative vehicle concepts are being considered by management. The first three are quickly discarded, and the “final” is against two projects. On one side a luxury minivan and on the other a sporty SUV. At the time, minivans were selling well all over the world.

But Porsche cannot make a decision until he has consulted his American team. The United States is a huge market for the German brand.

From the beginning, the leaders of Porsche USA are categorical and have shock arguments. Admittedly, vans were particularly popular in the US market. But especially among families with many children and low income levels.

Meanwhile, large SUVs sold well, including CSP +.

Porsche USA vetoes the minivan, in Germany the decision is made: the third Porsche will be an SUV.

A partnership with Mercedes

Pretty soon, Porsche became aware of the need to team up with a partner to design its first SUV. By using an already existing base, the brand will save hundreds of millions of euros in development, while saving a lot of time.

The first partner to be considered is Mercedes-Benz. The manufacturer with the star will launch its Class M in 1997, and Porsche knows it. The initial contacts are encouraging, and Mercedes-Benz is not at all opposed to partnering with Porsche on this project.

The deal was quickly closed and the teams from the two manufacturers began working together. “At this stage, we see the Porsche SUV as a high-performance version of the future M-Class from Mercedes,” explains Klaus-Gerhard Wolpert, Cayenne product manager for twelve years.

The Cayenne was almost derived from a Mercedes M-Class, but the project fell through. Porsche Media

From Mercedes-Benz to Volkswagen

“The car would have had its own exterior design, lots of M-Class technology, but engines and chassis components from us,” says the project manager.

The Porsche-Mercedes partnership, which was agreed in the summer of 1996, went well, but towards the end of the year, money issues between the two companies forced Porsche to withdraw from the project. We had to start over and find a new partner.

Although Volkswagen and Porsche are not yet members of the same group, the chairman of Volkswagen’s board of directors, Ferdinand Piëch, grandson of the founder of the Porsche company, Ferdinand Porsche, will welcome this project.

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Extending Porsche's success to SUVs, a real challenge for the brand

Extending Porsche’s success to SUVs, a real challenge for the brand

It is forbidden to drive a Porsche!

To give its engineers an idea of ​​the requirements for developing an SUV, Porsche’s management will make an unusual decision through its director Wolpert: “I have asked all my division heads to return their Porsche company cars. We bought a number of SUVs such as BMW “X5, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mercedes M-Class. Engineers and managers had to drive these models every day, and we changed them every month.”

A way for Porsche to infuse SUV culture into its troops. Engineers are suddenly interested in storage space, the height of the loading frame, folding rear seats or crossing options.

The shape of the wings, an essential feature of Porsche. Porsche Media

Differentiation of Cayenne from Touareg

The second challenge will be to make a real Porsche based on a Volkswagen Touareg. The chassis, windscreen and the four doors on the two SUVs are identical.

“In the profile, the doors define the personality of a car. Behind the back door we may have a meter left, it does not give much space to do anything, ”explains Mauer, one of the engineers. To differentiate, the designers will work hard and spend an entire year on the headlights alone.

The highest point on screens and headlights is above the bonnet, an essential feature of a Porsche and a real challenge when you need to have a large V8 engine under the bonnet.

Cayenne will be very poorly received by fans of the brand.

Cayenne will be very poorly received by fans of the brand.

A remarkable presentation

In September 2002, just over four years after the decision to build the Cayenne was announced, the first five-seater Porsche celebrated its world premiere at the Paris Motor Show.

For Wendelin Wiedeking, head of Porsche, the company plays very big that day: “This day, there is no doubt in my mind, will have a historical significance for the company. »

Within Porsche, the Cayenne was quickly accepted, unlike the brand’s purists, who cried ugly. For fans and clubs of the brand, a five-door, five-seater Porsche is already heresy, so a vulgar 4×4 …

A success that continues today.jpeg

A success that continues today.jpeg

Cayenne saved the mark

The numbers will show that Porsche is right. While the manufacturer expected 25,000 sales a year, Porsche will sell 276,652 first-generation units, or 35,000 a year.

Since its launch, more than one million Cayeners have been sold.

“With the Cayenne, we have for the first time managed to transfer the Porsche legend to a whole new market segment,” says Oliver Blume, Chairman of Porsche AG’s Executive Board. And to save a legendary brand.

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