Porsche gambles on efficiency

The Porsche AG Macan sport utility vehicle at the New York Auto Show.
The Porsche AG Macan sport utility vehicle at the New York Auto Show. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The German automaker devotes time and energy to electric, hybrid and non-diesel vehicles at the New York Auto Show

Not every automaker at every car show debuts some crazy concept or high-power brand-new model. Many times, and especially this year at the New York Auto Show, the debuts are racing versions or so-called facelifts on existing models.

But auto shows are also major opportunities for networking among the ranks - among journalists, executives and publicists alike - and for introducing yourself to key players when you are the new guy.

So it goes this week with Porsche AG. At the show this week in Manhattan, the Stuttgart-based automaker introduced three model upgrades - the 911R, 718 Boxster and an efficient four-cylinder Macan - along with its new president of North America, Mr Klaus Zellmer.

He was promoted to the role in November as part of an executive reshuffle within parent company Volkswagen after the diesel engine-fixing scandal last year.

So while Porsche did not show a super-hyped new concept, it is using the show to devote massive amounts of time and energy to laying the groundwork - across all platforms - for electric, hybrid and other efficient but non-diesel vehicles in the next two decades.

It's not about preserving the ash, it's about carrying over the fire... in these challenging times, you have to go and do the trends and the trend is that we have to take care of efficiency.

MR KLAUS ZELLMER, president of Porsche North America

At the moment, Mr Zellmer, who from 2010 until last year was the well-respected managing director of Porsche Germany, seems to be the right guy for the job.

"You have to adapt," he said in New York. "At the moment, that means it's a lot about hybrids."

The US$47,500 (S$63,960) Macan, in particular, hints at the way forward, although its tiny four-cylinder engine has caused some unrest among the fanboy and track-fiends who bemoan the paltry cylinder count. (Mr Zellmer called the small SUV "progressive" and praised its 0-100kmh capacity of 6.1 seconds.)

Porsche will show S, GTS and Turbo versions, but the 248-horsepower four-cylinder version, with a 25mpg combined fuel efficiency (an 18 per cent improvement over the six-cylinder version) and updated safety systems, has garnered the most hype.

Mr Zellmer says the rig shows how Porsche is striking a balance between tradition and innovation. You can be modern and embrace your heritage, he said.

"It's not about preserving the ash, it's about carrying over the fire," he said. "That's something that we really have to take care of because if you want a future in these challenging times, you have to go and do the trends and the trend certainly is that we have to take care of efficiency."

It also shows just how strongly Porsche believes luxury SUVs will continue to claim market share.

Last year, Porsche North America sold nearly 52,000 vehicles, up more than 20 per cent from 2014. The Macan was its best growth sector, seeing a more than 60 per cent sale increase over 2014 in December alone.

Along with the Cayenne SUV, it also led sales for all of Porsche AG, reporting double-digit growth worldwide for 2014. (For all of last year, the more expensive Cayenne outsold the Macan by a mere 3,000 units.)

So far, so good. Mr Zellmer nearly doubled car sales during his time at Porsche Germany, growing them from 13,000 to 24,000.

As for the Macan, deliveries start in July. He says he is ready.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'Porsche gambles on efficiency'. Print Edition | Subscribe