Chiclana de la Frontera, SPAIN: One of the perks of working in journalism is going on the occasional press trip. There is an essential quid pro quo to all these arrangements—the client wants to either reward or woo the media—but it is always wrapped in such an elegant package, one forgets that it is all part of a multi-million dollar marketing strategy. The bigger and sexier the product, the bigger the kick for the journalist—and they don’t get much bigger or sexier than Porsche, who last month, once again invited Executive, this time to Spain to test drive the second generation Cayenne, Porsche’s revolutionary SUV. It’s a car which I unabashedly call the family Porsche, a moniker that in no way takes any of the edge or luster off the reputation of this legendary marque. That just means you can let your wife drive it.
The Porsche Cayenne was launched in 2003. In Lebanon, it was unveiled amid much hullabaloo at the Beirut Hippodrome, where, fittingly for such a thoroughbred, the vehicle was put through its paces to demonstrate its off-road capabilities.
It didn’t disappoint. Here for the first time was a company, known for it famous sports coupes, venturing into SUV territory, the traditional preserve of the Americans, Japanese, and of course, the British. But ennui, in Lebanon at least, had set in: the Range Rover had become a cliché, the boxy American SUVs were just a too sauvage for madam and the Japanese models, while very efficient, just weren’t sexy enough.
Enter the aristocrats of Europe, who had identified a niche for an SUV with the all the trappings of the world’s most luxurious European brands—Mercedes, Audi, Volvo and Porsche. They all transformed the SUV into the epitome of urban cool, but only Porsche had the outstanding racing pedigree to give its creation added pizzazz.
Wildly popular in Lebanon
The numbers speak for themselves. Globally, Porsche has sold more than 150,000 units. A few years back, I walked out of a London pub in Belgravia to be faced with four identical black Cayennes parked on the same residential street. It wasn’t the beer. The car was, and still is, the must-have for those lucky enough to afford one. And no one gave a damn if the neighbors had one too. In Lebanon, the Cayenne accounts for over 50% of Porsche’s sales.
The new Cayenne was available globally on February 24. The entry level Sports Utility model is now powered by a 290 bhp six-cylinder engine that has increased in size from 3.2 to 3.6 liters and which now offers an increase in maximum output over the former V6 by no less than 40 bhp. Next up comes the Cayenne S, featuring a natural-aspiration V8 power unit, up by 0.3 liters to 4.8 liters and with a maximum output of 385 bhp, 45 bhp more than before. The über-Cayenne is the eight-cylinder turbocharged beast, pushing out 500 bhp, 50 bhp more than its predecessor. Finally, the new direct gasoline injection has made the Cayenne more fuel efficient—15% more according to Porsche—and faster. The Cayenne Turbo can do 0-100 in 5.1 seconds.
Back in Spain, the elements have served to disrupt the days proceeding. Excessive rain has meant that we can’t try out the car’s supposedly fabulous off-road potential. I don’t mind. The 4×4 facility is an option that I know is there, but most consumers buy cars to drive them and their families from point A to point B and 99% of the time this is done on tarmac, notorious Lebanese tarmac in my case. I must be one of the few international guests here who actually want to see how this beauty performs on the road in the rain.
There are no complaints. The new technological developments are very exciting and will please those who look for safety as well as performance. Porsche’s Stability Management ensures the car reacts even faster when applying the brakes. This prevents the Cayenne from developing potentially dangerous pendulum action (such as when towing), and optimizes the brake effect on loose ground. The new models also come with a rollover sensor, which, in an emergency, triggers both the belt latch tensioners and curtain airbags—there are six other regular airbags by the way—thus reducing the risk of injury for occupants in a rollover.
The Cayenne has certainly not rolled over on its shareholders. Porsche continued to show growth in 2006, a performance Porsche claims has been due to the “ongoing improvement of Porsche’s model mix.” However, the significant jump in the group’s pre-tax profits to 2.11 billion euro is mainly attributable to the sale of auto-roof manufacturers CTS Fahrzeug-Dachsysteme (80.7 million euro), profits earned through the company’s share in Volkswagen AG (203 million euro), and “three-digit million-euro range” proceeds from stock price hedging transactions linked to the acquisition of a share in Volkswagen. The company expects the next major thrust in growth in 2009, with the launch of the new four-door Sports Coupe.
Sales figures are up
Figures in the first four months of the current year of business (which began on August 1, 2006) show that Porsche’s trajectory as a manufacturer of sporty premium cars is continuing upward. Revenue in this period is up 0.7% to 2.05 billion euro; sales show an increase by 0.4% to 25,850 units sold—including 10,350 units of the Porsche 911, with growth in this model series amounting to 8.5%. In the same four months, the Boxster and Cayman are up 53.7%, having sold 7,750 units. Reflecting the end of its first generation lifecycle, the Cayenne was down by 29.2% to 7,740 units but these figures are bound to improve with the launch of the new range.
Staying with the boardroom, Porsche’s main Zuffenhausen plant in built a total of 36,504 units of the Porsche 911—more than ever before. The Leipzig Plant built 35,128 units of the Cayenne and 290 units of the Carrera GT, which reached the end of its production as planned in May 2006. Including 30,000-plus Boxsters assembled in Finland, production increased to a total of 102,602 units, up 12.8% over the previous year. Porsche sales in Germany are up 12.4% to 3,950 units and in the rest of the world by an even more significant 15.3% to 12,590 cars. However, sales in North America are down 17.6% to 9,310 units. Porsche hopes that what it calls “young but fast-growing markets” such as Russia (16 dealerships to date) and China (20 dealerships) will contribute to the overall sales volume.
But who cares about all this when one is behind the wheel or should I say the real business end of the business? One of the most enjoyable things about being hosted by professionals is, well, their professionalism. One evening I wanted to go for a drive alone, not as part of the media pack that marauds Spanish roads during the day (don’t get me wrong—these are fun and it’s great to be with fellow journalists from the four corners of the globe) and so I was handed the keys of the new Cayenne Turbo and headed down to Cadiz. The car simply reeks of luxury—the Napa leather seats are virtually sportscar-like—so there I was snug as the proverbial bug. The new Panorama roof system was open and the BOSE Surround Sound System delivered 350 flawless watts of classic Rolling Stones. Maybe it should have been the Gypsy Kings, but who cared?
Here among the sleepy streets, I was lost in the twin pleasures of driving sheer luxury amid the history of Europe. I remembered that Cadiz was also where, in a 16th century sea battle, Sir Francis Drake inflicted such a damaging raid on the Spanish fleet, he was said to have burned the King of Spain’s beard.
Today, the new generation of Cayennes can lay claim to an equally hot performance.
In Germany, the basic model costs 51,735 euros, the more powerful S version costs 66,610 euros and the premium Cayenne Turbo costs 108,617 euros (including sales tax).