* Business logic pushes Porsche away from two-seaters
* Sports car fans remain unamused
* Jury still out on brand impact
By Andreas Cremer
BERLIN, June 7 Manfred Wilke loves nothing more
than speeding down the German Autobahn in his 911 coupe.
Gazing at a 911 Carrera GTS with a 100,000 euro ($125,000)
price tag in Porsche's flagship showroom in Berlin, the real
estate manager said only cars like the sporting two-seater
deserved to carry the Porsche badge.
He is one of a number of Porsche purists who are appalled at
the Stuttgart-based sports car maker's aggressive push into
sport utility vehicles and family-style saloons.
Nearly 50 years after the launch of the 911, its newer, more
roomy siblings, the Cayenne SUV and four-door Panamera, account
for almost three quarters of Porsche's sales, and some customers
fear the company is straying too far from its racing roots.
"Only delusional marketers could attempt to turn Porsche
into an offroader company," said Wilke, 53. "It's a flat-out
insult to Porsche's image and fame."
The powerful 911, driven by Steve McQueen at the start of
the 1971 movie "Le Mans", has captivated -- and sometimes
frightened -- fans for decades and came fifth in the 1999 Car of
the Century awards.
Its timeless design, refreshed again last year, evolved from
the Porsche 356 designed by Ferry Porsche in 1948, the sports
car maker's first vehicle in series production.
But for now the bulky foor-door cars are king, as demand for
large luxury models is growing faster than the sports car
market. Porsche's next major new model is a compact SUV called
the Macan, which goes into production in 2013.
"Even at Porsche, SUVs promise stronger growth than the
classical two-door sports cars," said Willi Diez, head of the
Institute for Automobile Industry in Nuertingen and an adviser
to former Mercedes-Benz CEO Helmut Werner.
"The Cayenne, Macan and Panamera become the profit-laden
springboard needed to develop the core Porsche stuff."
Diez and other see Porsche becoming a two-brand company with
the 911 and its other sports cars sitting alongside a portfolio
of top-end luxury models.
Other marques such as Ferrari and Lamborghini have kept
largely to sports cars, leaving their parents Fiat and
Volkswagen to develop other types of cars.
Turning its focus from one of the world's most recognisable
sports cars to the bulky Cayenne was not a natural progression,
but a necessity if Porsche was to hit its targets.
Bolstered by its alliance with Europe's biggest car maker
Volkswagen, Porsche aims to sell 200,000 cars a year by 2018, up
from 116,978 last year. It wants to keep its return on sales
above 15 percent after achieving 18.7 percent last year.
Sales of the Cayenne, which saves costs by sharing a
platform with VW's Touareg and Audi's Q7 SUV models, are
expected to surge 4 0 percent in major auto markets to 52,076
vehicles by 2017 from 2010, research firm IHS Automotive
The Macan should hit almost 37,000 in its first five years,
and sales of the Panamera could jump 67 percent to 33,643.
Porsche sold 17,607 911s last year and IHS expects a slower
growth rate in the next five years of about 37 percent.
Porsche is spending 500 million euros to expand its factory
in the eastern German city of Leipzig, adding body and paint
shops and a new assembly line to produce the Macan. Porsche also
increased production of the Cayenne and the Panamera in January.
But Porsche's efforts to meet demand for upscale 4x4s has
cost it the top spot in terms of its cars' perceived sporting
image, according to a survey of 4,000 consumers by Germany's
ADAC automobile club, Europe's largest.
"There seems to be a greater emphasis (at Porsche) on
short-term sales gains at the expense of the famous brand's
image," said ADAC analyst Marcus Krueger.
But others said the overall Porsche brand was benefiting
from the broader product range and the onus was on Porsche to
keep the 911 at the top of its game.
"Porsche still stands for luxury and performance. But it is
also important that flagship brands such as the 911 continue to
convince through innovation," said Cassidy Morgan, head of
Central and Eastern Europe at brand consultancy Interbrand.
Porsche, which achieves high ratings in quality studies by
companies such as J.D. Power & Associates, maintains that brand
perception is vital.
The brand, the product of Porsche's racing heritage, "is the
most important reason to buy a Porsche," Chief Executive Officer
Matthias Mueller has said.
Porsche sales chief Bernhard Maier told Reuters the company
was not neglecting its sports car line but was creating demand
with new models after revamped versions of the 911 and the
Boxster roadster reached showrooms in December and in April.
A new version of the hardtop Cayman two-seater will be
launched later this year, and the 918 Spyder - a 768,000-euro
plug-in hybrid supercar - will arrive next year, Maier said.
Helmut Becker, a former chief economist at BMW who
now runs a consulting firm in Munich, said Porsche's new-found
passion for big cars made business sense, even if it turns away
"Two-seater sports cars are completely uneconomical, their
customer base is shrinking," Becker told Reuters. "Even a
classical sports car maker has a right to broaden its
Back in the Berlin dealership, real estate manager Wilke
directed his scorn at a Panamera sedan, a car that at first
glance looks like a 911 that has been elongated.
The vehicle's bulky rear stems from the fact that former CEO
Wendelin Wiedeking, who is 6 foot 2 (1.88m), insisted he should
be able to sit comfortably in the back, a company manager has
"The Panamera is too big and too compromised," Wilke said.
"It simply lacks the timeless fascination of a 911. That's what
Porsche is all about."
($1 = 0.8023 euros)
(Additional reporting by Christoph Steitz; Editing by Giles