Cars

Porsche's 20-Year Plan Is a Gamble on Efficiency, Starting With the Macan

The German sports car maker is investing heavily in electric and hybrid models and planning on continued success for its SUVs.

Porsche Sees Tiny Macan Engine as Key to Efficient Future

Not every automaker at every car show unveils 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 of existing models.

Still, auto shows provide major opportunities for networking amid the ranks—among journalists, executives, and publicists—and for introducing yourself to key players when you’re 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, Klaus Zellmer.

An attendee views the 2017 Porsche AG Macan sports utility vehicle (SUV) during the 2016 New York International Auto Show in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Nearly 1,000 cars and trucks will be on displ ay at North America's first and largest-attended auto show. Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

An attendee views the 2017 Porsche Macan sports utility vehicle during the 2016 New York International Auto Show.

Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

Zellmer 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 didn’t 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 over the next two decades.

At the moment, Zellmer, who from 2010 until 2015 was the well-respected managing director of Porsche Germany, seems to be the right guy for the job.

“You have to adapt,” he said on Thursday in New York. “At the moment, that means it’s a lot about hybrids.”

The $47,500 Macan, in particular, hints at the way forward, although its tiny, four-cylinder engine has caused some unrest among fanboy and track fiends bemoaning the paltry cylinder count. (Zellmer called the small SUV "progressive" and praised its 0 to 60 mile per hour capacity of 6.1 seconds.) Porsche will show S, GTS, and Turbo versions, but the 248-horsepower four-cylinder version, with a combined fuel efficiency of 25 miles per gallon (an 18 percent improvement over the six-cylinder version) and updated safety systems, has garnered the most hype.

The new Porsche 911 R sits on display at the 2016 New York International Auto Show in New York, U.S., on Thursday, March 24, 2016. Nearly 1,000 cars and trucks will be on display at North America's first and largest-attended auto show. Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg
The new Porsche 911 R sits on display at the 2016 New York International Auto Show.
Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

Zellmer said 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,” Zellmer said. “That’s something that we really 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.”

The new Porsche AG 718 Boxster vehicle is displayed during the 2016 New York International Auto Show in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Nearly 1,000 cars and trucks will be on display at North America's first and largest-attended auto show. Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

The new Porsche AG 718 Boxster vehicle on display at the 2016 New York International Auto Show.

Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

It also shows just how strongly Porsche believes luxury SUVs will continue claiming market share. Last year, Porsche North America sold nearly 52,000 vehicles, up more than 20 percent from 2014. The Macan served as its its best growth sector, with more than a 60 percent sales increase over 2014 in December alone. Along with the Cayenne SUV, the Macan led sales for all of Porsche AG, reporting double-digit growth worldwide for 2014. (In all 2015, the more expensive Cayenne outsold the Macan by a mere 3,000 units.)

So far, so good. Zellmer nearly doubled car sales during his time at Porsche Germany, expanding them from 13,000 to 24,000 annually. As for the Macan, deliveries will start in July. Zellmer said he’s ready.

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