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Porsche Betting Big on Panamera

German maker’s 4-door sports car could be key to U.S. success, global survival.

by on Jun.19, 2009

The 2010 Porsche Panamera could begin the next big breakthrough product for the tiny German company, or be a costly anchor around its corporate neck.

The 2010 Porsche Panamera could begin the next big breakthrough product for the tiny German company, or be a costly anchor around its corporate neck.

Porsche has a way of coming up with the unexpected and confounding conventional wisdom. Despite the naysayers, the German maker’s sports car/SUV, the Cayenne, has become its top-selling product in the critical U.S. market. And despite its miniscule size, this David could yet win a battle to merge withor even gain control of the German Goliath, Volkswagen.

But will Porsche pull it off once again when it finally brings the controversial new Panamera to market, in the coming months. This time, the maker of the legendary 911 is putting its sports car know-how into its first-ever four-seat sedan, and if company forecasts hold true, the Panamera could become Porsche’s most important, if risky, product launch ever.

Success, insiders suggest, could also help shore up company finances battered by the costly and ongoing battle with VW.

“We are confident Panamera will not only stabilize but even boost our sales,” declared Porsche board member and marketing chief Klaus Berning, at an event marking the first time journalists could test drive the new sedan. (A full review of the 2010 Porsche Panamera will be posted on TheDetroitBureau.com over the coming weekend.)

Berning acknowledged that the German maker is feeling “the cold wind” of the global economic meltdown, especially in the United States, a market that traditionally accounts for a third of its worldwide sales – which during the 2008 fiscal year came to 96,852. U.S. sales, for ’08 totaled 31,800, but they’ve been plummeting ever since, with 2009 volume so far off about 30%.

The luxury car segment has, in fact, been the hardest hit in the American market, noted Detlev von Platen, CEO of Porsche Cars North America, in sharp contrast to most prior recessions. Why is a matter of debate. Some industry analysts point to plunging executives salaries and bonuses, others to the reduced availability of leasing, all factors that can put a car like Panamera, which will carry a “base” price of $89,800, out of reach of even the affluent.

“It’s not a price problem. It’s social perception,” countered von Platen, the PCNA boss, adding that “If you’re (an entrepreneur or senior executive) laying off people in your company, it’s hard to justify driving a 911 sports car.” (more…)