NEW YORK (MainStreet) This week at the New York International Auto Show, Porsche is flaunting its 918 Spyder, one of the fastest street-legal cars out there. But at $845,000, it's obviously not a consumer-oriented vehicle. Instead, according to Porsche North America CEO Detlev von Platen, it's a branding statement to prove that supercars are still relevant, even in an automotive world obsessed with fuel-efficiency.
Porsche makes up just 2% of parent company VW Group sales but some 22% of its operating profits. Porsche has been on a roll with with 21% growth in 2013 and similar growth in 2012. According to von Platen, most important to this momentum is "a really strong offensive in new products."
In the premium segment, Porsche is able to command an 18% return on sales, which allows the company cash-flow to fund that innovation.
"We want to make sure that we are able to invest on our own in our products," he said. "But to do this, and again Porsche is a small company -- 20,000 people, that's it -- we want to be able to invest with our own money in our own destiny."
Part of that "destiny" entails maintaining a strong performance heritage to the 911 vehicles but also broadening the offerings like the Cayenne crossover or the Panamera, which started production in 2009.
The apotheosis of that marriage of technology and powertrain is the 918 Spyder, with 887 horsepower and 944 lb-ft of torque. It looks fast standing still and goes 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. But it can also run 18 miles on just an electric charge.
"In 2008, 2009, the whole world was talking about fuel economy, fuel standards," von Platen told MainStreet. "And a lot of people started to raise the question, 'Is there any future for sports cars? Why do we need sports cars.'"
That initiated something of a challenge for the brand.
"And it was really important for us at that time to show and demonstrate that sports cars have a future," he said. "So [there is] a lot of new technology we might see, which we might see on our other cars in the future, but what's really important [is] to make this investment, not only for some very chosen customers who will look for this car, but it is also important to show to the public, to show to this industry that Porsche is able to make the sports car of the future. And this is a demonstration."
With increasingly strict Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, the ability to brandish extreme get-up-and-go alongside green plug-in hybrid capabilities is the way Porsche plans keep up with the times while staying true to itself.
--Written by Ross Kenneth Urken for MainStreet