A while ago, I
sat down with a Mr. Detlev von Platen.
They say everyone has a boss, well, some people have fewer bosses than most. As member of Porsche’s executive board of management, Mr. von Platen is someone with very few bosses indeed. He previously managed the Porsche brand in France, followed by the United States, and is now at the top of Porsche’s Sales and Marketing.
I quizzed him on Porsche’s strategy for hybrid and electric cars, the way people look at the Porsche brand, and even how come they managed to upset some of their biggest fans with the 911R. Let’s hope that last one did not get my name crossed off too many lists!
Jan Coomans: Let’s talk about the new Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. It’s a pretty big launch and I’m interested to know how Porsche sees its hybrid models going forward. Are they here to stay, or just a stepping stone towards fully electric cars like the Mission E.
Mr. Detlev von Platen: These Hybrids definitely occupy a very important space in our strategy. As you know we are quite early, almost pioneers in development of hybrids. We started with the Cayenne then the Panamera and today we are quite successful with these cars. On average, hybrid sales make up 15% for the Cayenne, and 10% for the Panamera, worldwide. There are some markets where we have more. And I believe that with this step we have done here, with the new hybrid Panamera, the 2nd generation, we’ll increase the credibility of our hybrids even further. Sitting here in front of you, I fully imagine that we proceed with this technology in other products into the future.
The latest Panamera 4 E-Hybrid
— Do you think that over time the electrical part will evolve to become more powerful and the combustion engine smaller? Paving the way to fully electric Porsches?
— I think plug-in hybrid will continue to have potential and I explain you why first. Because we have already shown that plug-in cars do not necessarily mean a sacrifice in performance. We also see great performance in the hybrid racing technology. We have adapted some of these technologies for our road cars. You can use hybrid technology to get some more power, when you need it. Of course we have also started the development of a fully electrical car. The production is already decided, and we will produce this car in Stuttgart. The market introduction time is also decided, it will be from 2019 onwards. It will be very important that by that time the infrastructure you need for charging these cars is in place. We are putting a lot of effort into creating impulses and momentum to create supercharging stations for both plug-in hybrid and fully electrical cars. Obviously we do not think everything will come at once, so the E-hybrid cars like the new Panamera are a good place to start.
— I suppose that, sooner or later, we will all see the hybrid technology also coming to the real performance cars? One could imagine that cars like the 911 Turbo could make good use of electric motors to fill in the gaps where the turbochargers are not quite up to speed yet?
— We expect this to happen, but not that fast. But when you speak about performance, you need to speak about the concept. You don’t always need to have a big engine, if you cannot bring the power of the engine to the road. Therefore it was also a very big step for us to have a four-wheel drive for the first time with a hybrid. Otherwise you cannot transfer the power onto the road efficiently.
Porsche's Mission E concept car
— Let’s talk about to the Russian market. I’m sure you’ve already been in Moscow?
— Recently, yes, and I had the pleasure to drive Moscow at night. There was no traffic, the Porsche guys in Moscow timed this this very well, and we had a great time driving.
— If you look at the actual numbers for the Russian market, I imagine you sell quite a lot of Cayennes, Macans, Panameras. Most Porsches you see on the road are not actual sports cars these days. How comfortable are you with this trend?
— All cars we sell are sports cars. We have two-door sports cars and we have four-door sports cars. But, to your point, we are very satisfied with the market share we have in Russia with our two-door sports cars. Porsche is very well presented in Russia, and selling more than 5,000 cars a year. And we keep growing in a depressed market. Of course, four-door sports cars, Cayenne, Panamera, have helped us to increase the presence and the volume, but also helped make the brand relevant, and this is important. Without a Cayenne or a Macan in our lineup we could not gain such traction with two-door sports cars.
— With my last question I tried to understand the evolution of your brand perception. When I was a kid, when I heard the word Porsche, I imagined a small two-door sports car. Now, the brand has moved from selling small sports cars exclusively to a majority of family oriented cars. Obviously they are still sportier than other brands, but you can’t really call them sports cars by the usual definition.
— This is what makes Porsche a little bit different. We are still a very exclusive brand and we are recognized as being a very sporty brand. Therefore we continue to shape the brand in this direction. Our investments in motor sports are also important for this purpose. Le Mans, for example, and GT racing around the world. This also involves customers who drive themselves. We are still very strong with this. But we are also recognized as a brand which you can use every day. And not just the Cayenne, the 911 now is not the same 911 from 25 years ago in terms of space and comfort.
Porsche 911 Carrera 2S
You can still go on track and have fun with the 911. B you can then drive it from the track to your home afterwards and not feel compromised in either scenario. This is something which I believe makes this brand so great without losing its exclusivity. I get this question often and I say, look, we’re not driven by volume, we are driven by the desirability of our products. As a consequence, we have developed a strategy to define how we want to shape the future of the sports car. Therefore you will continue to see very authentic thoroughbred sports cars coming from Porsche, with a manual gearbox and sound and roughness of a 911R or a GT.
— I actually wanted to mention those cars for my last question. About the exclusivity and short supply of your special models like the 911R and GT3 or GT4. It’s a good problem to have, but with demand outstripping your supply by such a huge margin, we now have the situation that prices are way exceeding the official list price from Porsche and most people are unable to get one even if they could pay for it. How do you feel about that?
— I would say, we are and we want to stay an exclusive brand. I don’t want to see a Porsche sitting on a lot, and waiting six months for a buyer. Because once that happens, you lose the desirability of our products. Second point, we have always made some special series which have a strong impact on the brand. The 911R was from the beginning seen as a special series with a limited number of cars which we wanted to keep limited, without being elitist. We are an accessible brand. But some special series have been limited in terms of volume, because we wanted to keep these cars special. More special, maybe, than the 911. We did this really to create, of course, the demand, but we are not looking for excluding people outside of the brand.
— I suppose that some people, particularly the kind you find in online Porsche forums, might disagree with you on the last point. Many were a bit annoyed that with cars like the 911R, they’re all sold out before they are officially announced. It seemed that Porsche’s VIP clients were contacted in advance and given a sort of right of first refusal to buy the car. It was a closed process, not open to regular enthusiasts...and then the next thing they see is somebody is selling their 911R build for three quarters of a million Euros on Ebay before it is even delivered. I think you understand that some enthusiasts did feel excluded after that.
— That’s wrong. I will say honestly, that’s wrong. But of course it’s difficult, because you have very important clients and you don’t want to exclude them.
— I suppose that the problem at the moment is that, assuming you have the money and a company like Porsche offers you a limited car like the 911R... you can be absolutely certain that you can make a profit by accepting the offer. because as soon as it is delivered the car is worth a lot more than what Porsche charges for it. So they would be stupid to refuse it, even if they don’t really need it, because it’s free money...
— That’s an aspect which we don’t like and we will look at this in the future trying to avoid this kind of value speculation. We want to deliver this type of cars to ... real customers. Porsche’s is everything but not arrogant. But if you listen to the world, it sounds like we could have sold like 20 thousand of these cars. No, never ever. And then you destroy the mystique. People are looking for Porsche because of passion and desirability. And the thing with this speculation, this is something wrong, and we’ll have a look at this, how we can manage this in the future. Of course, it’s also because of how the product line is evolving, because the Carrera is now turbocharged. Some people, they just want manual gearbox, big naturally-aspirated engine. Before, you could buy the Carrera S, which is not a 911R, but it’s probably closer to the 911R than the new ones are. So in this case the supply of that kind of cars is getting small. The negative is, we pissed off some people, true customers who had been really loyal to the brand. That’s a negative, which I don’t like personally. The positive is, we’ve made loud and clear the fact that Porsche is still a very special brand and very brand with very desirable products. I can just tell you this is not the last time with this greater desire.
— I’m very happy to hear that, thank you very much for your straight answers to this interview Mr. von Platen.