No. 927
December 13, 2017
 

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with Autoextremist.com, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  witchhuntbook.com). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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Tuesday
May162017

PORSCHE DIGS DEEP.

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. After writing about advertising the last couple of weeks – “Volkswagen Turns Its Lonely Eyes To… America” and “Jeep Recalculates” – it seems appropriate that I close out my trifecta of advertising columns with a perspective on what Porsche is up to of late in terms of communicating to its faithful, while at the same time attempting to draw in newcomers to the brand.

As long-term readers of this website might recall, I’ve been immersed in the aura of Porsche since the late 60s. My first encounters with the tiny German sports car maker occurred on the racetrack, when in the course of accompanying my brother to road-racing circuits all over the country with our Corvettes, I got exposed to the racing machines from Porsche.   

The most memorable experience for me back in the day, which got me started on the Porsche thing, was when I was assigned the task of giving pit signals to my brother at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1968. Though we were running a Corvette in the GT class, the cars to beat for the overall win were the factory Porsche 907 prototype sports cars - low-slung, beautifully rendered racing machines that ended up dominating the race. And while holding out the signal board and leaning over the pit wall for my brother hour after hour, those 907 Porsches screamed by flat-out, under my extended pit board, as they were actually lower than the top of the pit wall! I’ll never forget it.

And later on, after the Corvette racing days came to an end, I got exposed to the Porsche mystique on my own terms, when I went out and purchased a used 911. During the brief course of owning that car I flogged it for all it was worth. I learned to love the 911 and I came to appreciate what the brand represented, because as a company, Porsche clearly marched to a different drummer.

And back in those days to drive a 911 well was a real accomplishment, because with its rear-engine placement it required absolute focus and concentration to drive fast. And to me that was the very best thing about the 911 because unlike today’s machines (including the latest 911s in fact), you had to drive the car. It wasn’t going to do it for you and if you made a mistake there were serious consequences. It was a wonderfully addicting driving experience. I owned several different Porsches after that, but none were as memorable or impressive as that chocolate brown 911.

Over the course of my ad career, I watched as Porsche transformed itself from a tiny company that made desirable sports cars that weren’t for everyone with their quirks and eccentricities charmingly intact, to a juggernaut purveyor of glistening sports cars and supercars that were pricier by the minute. And, oh yes, SUVs too. Lots and lots of SUVs. Yes, I decried – and cried – when the Cayenne made its debut, fighting the decision every step of the way, but that ship sailed long ago. In fact, that wonderfully quirky German sports car maker now sells more SUVs than anything else, making it one of the most profitable auto companies in the world. Today, the blistering hot sales of the Cayenne and Macan SUVs generate the mind-boggling profits that allow Porsche to still build desirable sports cars and to compete at the top levels of racing around the world.

But when all is said and done, I have to ask the obvious question: With more and more new customers being exposed to Porsche, and with most of those buyers only familiar with the Macan, or the Cayenne, or even the Panamera (the company's outstanding - and huge - luxury sedan) instead of the myriad variations of the 911 and the 718 sports cars, at what point does the Porsche brand become so far removed from its original essence that it completely loses its way? And at what point does the Macan, which is seemingly de rigueur at little league games and an essential part of the suburban landscape all across the country, become what Porsche represents?

I would say that we’ve already reached that point. Yes, the hardcore Porsche faithful still exist, but they seem to be dwindling in number. The reality is that the Porsche True Believers, who cling to their air-cooled dreams, are getting lost in the suburban shuffle, and there’s not much Porsche can do about it.

Except.

Except that Porsche isn’t giving up. Porsche operatives seem to be excruciatingly aware that if they lose the True Believers completely there would be nothing left. That’s why the company is feverishly building Porsche Experience Centers in its major markets. And that’s why it competes in GT racing around the world and for overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Another sign that Porsche isn’t going to give up on its founding mission anytime soon is the way it communicates about the brand. The company still believes that old-school direct mail serves its purpose. What? In this digital 24/7 social media circus that we live in today, Porsche is still clinging to direct mail? Yes, and its advertising agency, Cramer-Krasselt, seems to understand the enduring power of the written word too. In fact, a direct mail brochure for the new Porsche Panamera came across my desk the other day, and in this one masterfully written manifesto the passion for the Porsche brand is reignited in a cascade of wonderful words that are worth savoring. To wit:

For us, it’s always been the age of disruption.

The status quo dies hard. After all, it has one of the most powerful forces on the planet as its ally. Fear.

Enemy of change, stealer of ambition, fear is the champion of the half-measure, the checked swing, the almost-there. It softens the hard stance, rounds the sharp edge, and dulls the shine of a new idea.

None of us can pretend to be fearless. But every day we have the chance to decide how much influence our fears deserve. Sixty-nine years ago, we decided we wouldn’t fear what the world had to say about our cars. Instead of cowering behind research numbers seeking the most pedestrian design, or worrying about countering conventional wisdom, we would simply make the cars we wanted.

Correction: We would make the cars we desired. Dreamed of, actually.

So ever since that first Porsche, the 356 roadster, our market research has been our own heart rates. Fast, good. Slow, bad. We figure if something excites us tremendously, there’ll be enough people on the planet to make a business of it. If not, then not.

It’s a liberating thing, this leaving of fear on the side of the road. And the funny thing about it is that Porsche cars are more revered, more awarded, and more victorious in competition precisely because we didn’t caution our way and temper our enthusiasm.

A car of any form should never be a compromise, a settling for something less than spine-tingling. If you agree, consider getting behind the wheel of the new Panamera. It’s not the most expected path you could take. But a little disruption can be a good thing, as long as you’re the one doing the disrupting.

Courage changes everything.

In one fell swoop, the writer of this piece has reminded both the Porsche faithful and those who are new to the brand not only what Porsche stands for and how it thinks, but why it does things differently than any other car company in the world. The copy doubles down on Porsche’s “march to a different drummer” persona in a way that is compelling and memorable. Powerful stuff.

Now, admittedly, if the car mentioned at the end of this piece was the 911, all would be right with the world, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Porsche is digging deep here. The powers that be at the company know that the profitability from selling SUVs is a blessing, and that it gives Porsche the luxury to create ever more desirable sports cars and compete in major league races around the world.

But it comes with a heavy cost too. And Porsche operatives understand that they have to fight and claw to maintain their grip on the soul of the company.

At least Porsche understands the task at hand. That’s more than most other companies can muster.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

The Autoextremist, East Lansing, Michigan, March 1976.

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