Auto Review

Porsche Bets on Faster $123,000 Iconic 911


Porsche AG unveiled the revamped 88,000-euro ($123,000) 911 sports car today, seeking to stem declining sales of its iconic model and renew the brand’s heritage as a maker of two-seat performance vehicles.

The Stuttgart, Germany-based company, which now sells more Cayenne sport-utility vehicles and Panamera sedans than Boxster and Cayman sports-cars, is overhauling the 911 for the first time since 2004. It will add a compact SUV in 2013.

“Porsche’s chunky models have become the pillar of their success,” Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. “Ferrari and others aren’t standing still, so it’s about time for Porsche to reinforce sportiness. The new 911 couldn’t drop at a better moment.”

Porsche’s presentation of the 350-horsepower 911 highlights a push by German carmakers at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt to showcase models critical to their future growth plans. Volkswagen AG (VOW) is pressing its case to become the industry’s sales leader with a new city car, while Daimler AG (DAI) kicked off its pursuit of VW’s Audi and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) for the luxury-car lead with the start of a small-car line.

The seventh-generation 911, which has a top speed of 289 kilometers per hour (179 miles per hour) and surges to 100 kilometers in 4.6 seconds, will be more powerful and 45 kilograms (100 pounds) lighter than its predecessor due to bodywork chiefly made from aluminum, allowing the car to burn 16 percent less fuel, Porsche spokesman Hermann-Josef Stappen said.
Porsche Icon

“The 911 model line has been a staunch pillar in the market for almost 50 years,” Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller told reporters today in Frankfurt. “It’s enormously important for Porsche as it characterizes the brand. It’ll play a huge factor in our growth strategy.”

Six-month deliveries of the 911 model declined 13 percent to 10,101 cars as buyers waited for the revamped version.

Porsche has sold about 700,000 911s across six generations built since the model’s inception in 1963. The 911, which was driven by U.S. actor Steve McQueen in the 1971 movie “Le Mans,” evolved from the Porsche 356, the sports-car maker’s first production vehicle designed by Ferry Porsche in 1948. The model came fifth in the 1999 so-called Car of the Century awards.

Porsche will be counting on the 911 to help reverse the 20 percent drop in its shares since a plan to merge with Volkswagen by the end of the year fell apart last week. Porsche’s third- quarter earnings may be reduced by about 1.6 billion euros because of a non-cash impact related to the merger delay, a person familiar with the matter said Sept. 9.
Record Deliveries

Germany is the most attractive market in the global car industry, a survey of 300 auto managers by accounting firm Ernst & Young found, citing product quality and innovations. BMW, VW’s Audi and Mercedes, the world’s three largest makers of upscale cars, are targeting record deliveries this year, boosted by growing wealth in China and rebounding spending in the U.S.

“Frankfurt has become a showcase for carmakers’ future strategy,” Bratzel said. “The Germans are boasting pivotal models there. They’re acting from a position of strength.”

Mercedes will start its push for sales growth in Frankfurt when it presents the next generation of the B-Class. The van- like compact is the first in a line of at least five small cars aimed at attracting younger drivers to the 125-year-old manufacturer. The carmaker is investing 1.4 billion euros to produce the models, including a new factory in Hungary.
Luxury Lead

BMW and Audi have grown at more than five times the pace of Mercedes over the past decade by increasing their offerings more rapidly. Stuttgart-based Mercedes, which has also dropped to third in profitability, lost the luxury-car sales lead to BMW in 2005 and slipped behind Audi this year.

VW will premiere its smallest and cheapest model yet, called Up!, to enter the market for subcompact vehicles including Toyota Motor Corp.’s Aygo and PSA Peugeot Citroen’s C1. Priced at about 9,500 euros, the four-seat model is seen by VW as attracting at least 100,000 new buyers per year as urban centers grow and fuel restrictions tighten.

Europe’s largest carmaker has a goal of claiming the industry’s top global sales position no later than 2018. VW forecast a 5 percent increase in deliveries this year after selling a record 7.2 million units in 2010.

BMW will showcase the i3 electric city car and the i8 plug- in hybrid, two battery-powered luxury models developed from scratch under its new “i” sub-brand that are due to go on sale in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Home Show

“Frankfurt is our home show, so it’s natural” to premiere strategic products, Ian Robertson, BMW sales chief, said in an interview in Berlin Sept. 9. “Clearly, we’re all very competitive here.”

Built around a carbon-fiber frame and an aluminium underbody, the vehicles represent a “strategic device” to flaunt BMW’s high-tech competence, said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

“Customers might be attracted by the completely new design, high-tech light construction and the alternative driving systems,” he said. “Innovation is one of the hottest traits for high-end manufacturers. BMW is vying for the lead here.”

German manufacturers’ offerings will attract regular Frankfurt show visitors like Hermann Reichert, a 73-year-old retired engineer who lives in Berlin and calls himself a “car fanatic.” Reichert attended the 1963 show when Porsche introduced the original 911.

“A lot of so-called key models will be on display there,” said Reichert while browsing in VW’s flagship showroom on Berlin’s Unter den Linden boulevard. “The question remains which of these cars will make history. The 911 certainly did.”

Cremer is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

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