Porsche invested $100 million in an Atlanta complex that includes a 1.6-mile test track to give U.S. customers the thrill of autobahn speeds and boost growth in the automaker’s biggest market.
The facility, also the new site of Porsche’s North American headquarters, features a circuit that includes a metal plate that causes skidding and a low-friction circle to test drivers’ abilities to handle models like the 911 sports car in extreme situations. There’s also an off-road course for the Cayenne and Macan sport utility vehicles.
The 27-acre site near Atlanta’s airport, Porsche’s biggest single investment outside Germany, is part of a broader push by the Volkswagen AG unit to underscore performance and handling in an age in which driving is often dominated by stop-and-go traffic and parking headaches. Porsche also operates a so-called Experience Center in the U.K. and is building tracks in L.A. and Shanghai.
“We are investing more than ever before, heightening visibility for the Porsche brand in the U.S. and worldwide,” Porsche Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller said at the site’s opening ceremony on Thursday.
The U.S. was Porsche’s slowest-growing major market in the first quarter. Sales there rose 13 percent, less than half its global sales increase of 32 percent. Delivery gains were paced by a 34 percent jump in China and a 44 percent surge in Germany.
The U.S. narrowly hung onto its status as Porsche’s biggest market last year, with sales of 47,007 cars, compared with 46,931 vehicles in China. The brand this year plans to sell more than 200,000 vehicles globally for the first time.
The Atlanta facility offers programs starting at $300 for an hour and a half driving cars like the Boxster roadster and Panamera four-door coupe. The top-of-the-line package compares the 911 Turbo and the GT3 racing version and costs $750. Guests can also refuel themselves at Restaurant 356, named after Porsche’s first production model. Porsche forecasts that 30,000 guests will visit the new facility annually.