If you can’t come up with anything else to say about the new Porsche Cayenne, you can certainly start with “controversial.” Porsche’s third model line is an unusual – critics would call it ungainly – crossover that combines a sports car with a sport-utility vehicle. The Cayenne is the brainchild of Porsche’s confident CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, and creative design director, Harm Lagaay. There’s no question they’ve been a successful team in the past, using products like the Boxster and the eternally youthful 911 to maintain some of the highest profits and margins in the global auto industry. And despite the less-than-overwhelming reception given the new Cayenne since its unveiling in Paris last autumn, the two men insist it will prove popular once Porsche loyalists have a chance to see it in action. TheCarConnection’s publisher, TCC Team, met with both men during a tour of Porsche headquarters recently, and provides us with this pair of interviews.
TCC: There seems to be a trend in Germany towards, well, unusual designs. First came BMW with the new 7-Series, and now Porsche with the Cayenne. Aren’t these big risks?
LAGAAY: Every German manufacturer has developed a successful design identity over the last 20 years. So now companies like BMW have decided to go for a new route. The Cayenne is not a risk, and as a car segment, it is not a risk because this segment is one of the most successful worldwide. We define risk as doing something that does not belong or fit into the design philosophy of a company. This car (the Cayenne) follows the same philosophy as our sports cars – only 20 inches higher. But you have to take time to look at it and realize the similarities. Our design philosophy is worth gold. We have stretched the boundaries, but if you see it…you will always know it is a Porsche.
TCC: What was the philosophy behind doing something like Cayenne?
LAGAAY: We knew from the start we wanted to have an SUV that was the best in the world. It couldn’t look like and other SUV. It had to have its own body language.
TCC: But it has taken so much criticism. How do you react?
LAGAAY: The same way I react to people who criticize our Porsche sports cars. We are used to listening to people (who aren’t comfortable with new designs). If it takes time for you to get used to, that’s okay. We are absolutely convinced, in days or months…you will notice it is a very thoughtful design.
TCC: This program was complicated by the fact that you participated in a joint venture with Volkswagen (which produced its own SUV, the Touareg). How did that affect the venture?
LAGAAY: Porsche had a leading role in developing the packaging. The design was about finding basic proportions both companies could live with. We had to build a consensus about things like doors structures we both could live with. We designed a sculpture that is applicable both for Volkswagen and Porsche.
TCC: The degree of differentiation between the Touareg and Cayenne is quite remarkable.
LAGAAY: Volkswagen wanted the Touareg (visually) to fit in with existing models. We didn’t have anything but sports cars from which to draw our cues. So for us, it may have been more difficult.
TCC: Even the name has been a bit controversial.
LAGAAY: I think it’s been well-received. For us, the (Cayenne) name means adventure, hot, spicy, and it fits perfectly with what we have.
TCC: There’ve been rumors of adding yet another, fourth product line for Porsche. What opportunities does Cayenne open up?
LAGAAY: If it is done profitably, there is more potential there. I cannot say it is applicable to (just) any specific type of car. We will not do a pickup. You can apply our design philosophy to many things, but there are limits.
TCC: Can you give us a hint? Is there a dream car you’d personally like to build?
LAGAAY: The Boxster was a sketch in a notebook in a drawer long before we decided to do it. We have our dream cars, certainly, but even if I gave you an answer today, in a couple of months I might say that I’ve changed my mind.
TCC: The Cayenne is clearly controversial, and some would call it a risk. Do you agree?
WIEDEKING: It is not a risk. It is a chance. The risk is that we’re not able to fulfill the demand (for enough Cayennes) at the moment. The reaction when we showed it at the dealer meeting in Sardinia was outstanding. More than positive.
TCC: But what about the reaction to its styling?
WIEDEKING: This is the regular reaction to a new Porsche. A good design needs some time to understand. A Porsche is a long-term design. To fall in love with a good thing takes time. A product that looks good at first, the looks go down a year after.
TCC: Why did you go with an SUV?
WIEDEKING: Because it is the segment with the greatest potential for growth. Thirty percent of luxury buyers are purchasing SUVs. The SUV segment is changing, transforming, moving from simple to luxurious. The other Porsches are emotional. Now you have the ability to carry five people and all their things.
TCC: There have been some suggestions Porsche believes it can expand its appeal to women with the Cayenne.
WIEDEKING: Only 10 to 15 percent of women go for Porsche sports car. Cayenne may be higher. If a woman starts to drive a Cayenne, she wants it. We know it. If your wife gets into it, you will never get it back.
TCC: You have mentioned the possibility of a four-product line. Can you tell us anything about it?
WIEDEKING: We (recently) showed our supervisory board all our products out through 2010, and there was no fourth product. Right now, the most important thing is launching the Cayenne. But sometime in the middle of (2003) we will start to ask what else is possible for Porsche. A fourth product could be (ready by) 2007, 2008, 2009.
TCC: Does the Cayenne suggest Porsche will take a different direction in the future?
WIEDEKING: The sports car is our basic platform, even for the future. But in the future, the growth of sports cars is limited. To try to increase our market share in the sports car segment could trigger a price war we want no part of. So the fourth model line is a decision we are not ready to make. We know we can do a lot with derivatives of the Cayenne platform.