At the dawn of the new century, car enthusiasts experienced a truly confusing time when Porsche announced that it was going to produce its first SUV. What were Porsche thinking? Has it stopped being a sports brand? But behind that madness there was a logic.
Most 911 owners already had some form of High-end SUV for the family in the garage. And why did that luxury SUV have to be from another brand and not a Porsche? Besides, Porsche could do very well with selling more cars, it was a matter of survival.
In 2021, Porsche sold 301,915 cars. But in the 90s, before the arrival of the Cayenne, the situation was very different. In 1990, Porsche sold 15,023 cars worldwide. In 1992, things improved a little with just over 23,000 units, but these are figures that are light years away from current sales.
In fact, the brand was on the verge of disappearing at the end of the 90s. Until under the tutelage of its new CEO, Wendelin Wiedekingthe brand was reborn from its ashes and catapulted to the top of the market, with the Porsche Cayenne leading the way.
In addition to the untouchable 911, the range of the 1990s was made up of the umpteenth evolution of the Porsche 928, launched in 1974, and the Porsche 968an elaborate and successful evolution of the Porsche 924. They were not bad cars, quite the opposite, but the clientele wanted something new.
Little by little until you reach the top
The beginning of Porsche’s recovery began with the Boxster. There is a tendency to think that the Porsche Cayenne saved the brand. In fact, it was the boxster, although it can be said that it was a team effort between both models. Boxster sales generated the funds and investor confidence to invest in the Cayenne and the brand to take off.
In 1993, Porsche unexpectedly unveiled at the detroit salon a concept car, the Boxster. It was a small roadster, two-seater, therefore, and with a central engine. Designed by Grant Larson, who would also later design the first Panamera, the car was reminiscent of the 550 Spyder and reflected the evolving nature of Porsche design.
A mash-up of the words “boxer” (because of the engine configuration) and “roadster,” the Boxster immediately ignited the imagination of enthusiasts. To stoke the fire, Porsche representatives promised that they would bring it to market with the concept design intact. So it was. To a large extent, the production Boxster conformed to the concept car.
The agile mid-engined roadster not only opened up a new market segment for Porsche, but also attracted a significantly younger customer group, thanks to its price positioning below the already established 911.
The genius of the Boxster, apart from its design, concept and dynamic behavior, was its price. Significantly inferior to the Porsche 911. And that was possible because it made greater use of the principle of common parts, or carry-over parts (COP).
Thus, the first generation of the 986 Boxster shared the front end, doors and many other components with the 996 generation of the 911, which was launched in 1997, a year after the Boxster was introduced. The result was a significant reduction in production and inventory costs for both product lines and rigorous cost management.
With the success of the Boxster and the new Porsche 911, the Porsche management turned its attention to expanding the range. It was a necessity, they couldn’t risk it with only two models, even if one of them was the 911. You don’t build a solid table with only two legs. The brand needed more security.
Excellence as a goal
the people of Porsche of North America insisted so that new model was an SUV and not a minivann, bodywork that was shuffled at the time. The North American subsidiary of Porsche wanted what they called SUVs. It was a particularly fashionable type of car in North America, and was then its largest market. And if the person who sells the most asks you for an SUV, you give them an SUV.
Wendelin Wiedeking had also set his sights on the emerging Asian market, where SUVs were selling very well. The ambitions were high from the start: Porsche would not be content to build a sporty SUV consistent with the brand, it would also be an excellent off-roader.
Thus, the new model had the difficult task of fulfilling three promises. The first was to be an SUV. A Sport Utility Vehicle it is an evocative car that promises adventures, escapades and outdoor sports. It is a car that promises adventures, but at the end of the day it delivers the same as a minivan (space on board and comfort).
That is why SUVs have never had to be sporty (Sport refers to sports and hobbies practiced in nature, not their chassis) or really off-road. As long as they have more clearance, it is more than enough to take the family down the dirt roads to the lake where they are going to camp. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s what brands were selling us in the early days of SUVs.
The second promise he had to keep was to move like a Porsche. Being able to take the family anywhere is fine, but if, in addition, the car moves well linking curves, even better. Obviously, it could not keep up with the 911 or the Boxster, but behind the wheel, the traditional Porsche customer had to notice certain similarities, such as poise or a certain guiding precision.
And finally, the Cayenne had to be on par with luxury SUVs and not-so-luxury SUVs. It should be at the height of a Nissan Patrol and a Range Rover. Were customers going to put their Cayenne through trialeras or jump dunes? Unlikely.
The goal was establish the Cayenne as the best product on the market. It is a Porsche and therefore it has to be the best in everything, excellence was always sought. ‘Porsche: Excellence Was Expected’as Karl Ludvigsen would say in his magnum opus on the history of the brand.
Porsche and Volkswagen united by SUVs
By deciding on an SUV, Porsche was not venturing into totally uncharted territory. The idea of a luxury SUV did not seem so far-fetched, as the Mercedes-Benz ML (today, Mercedes-Benz GLE) in 1997 and the BMW X5 in 1999 they showed that there was a market for a luxury SUV. The Mercedes-Benz ML would serve, by the way, as camouflage for the prototypes of the first Cayenne, developed in part in Spain.
Still, financially, Porsche could not afford to develop a new platform for a car that would share nothing with the Boxster and 911. Volkswagenwhich also wanted to enter the prestige SUV segment, teamed up with Porsche to jointly develop the Colorado project. In June 1998 it was official, the Porsche Cayenne and the Volkswagen Touareg would share the same platform.
Despite the identical architecture, each manufacturer initially used their own engines and developed their own chassis configurations and tunings. Porsche was commissioned to develop the joint platform at its initially secret plant in hemmingenwhile Volkswagen brought its expertise in high-volume series production.
Porsche, unlike BMW and Mercedes-Benz who built their X5s and MLs in the United States, chose to assemble the Cayenne on German soil. And for this it built a new production plant in Leipzigofficially opened in August 2002.
As for the Volkswagen Touareg, it was manufactured at the Volkswagen plant in Bratislava (Slovakia). The already painted body of the Cayenne left the same factory as the Touareg and was sent to Leipzig. Both the first and second generation Cayennes (known internally as the E1 and E2) rolled off the production line in Leipzig and later also in Osnabrück.
With the launch of the third generation (E3) in 2017, Porsche moved all Cayenne production to Bratislava, thereby creating additional capacity in Leipzig for Panamera and Macan production.
Finally, at the 2002 Paris Motor Show, the Porsche Cayenne was revealed to the world. Porsche planned to sell 20,000 units a year of the Cayenne, but after four years on the market, it had already sold more than 150,000 units in total. Currently, since its launch, they have already sold over a million units.
Over time, the special versions of the Cayenne multiplied (Turbo S, GTS, Transsyberia y Turbo GTfor example), as well as a new fastback body called Cayenne Coupe. The importance of the Cayenne for Porsche is similar to that of the 911. It is an emblematic model for the brand and at the same time one of the most profitable.
Not only did the Cayenne enter the history of Porsche through the front door, but it also turned the brand into the most profitable company in the industry and generated income to develop all kinds of projects.
It is currently the second best-selling Porschebehind the other brand SUV, the Macan. In 2021, Porsche sold 83,071 units of the Cayenne and 88,362 units of the Macan.