ABOVE: Detlev von Platen, Porsche board member for Sales and marketing, at the new Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles. We met a few days before the official press conference and grand opening last week to discuss autonomous cars, the joy of driving, and the need for Porsches to always have a steering wheel. Photo by Marc Urbano.
“Last week, before our Experience Center opened here in Los Angeles, one day we had 80 people in their Porsches waiting along this road,” says Detlev von Platen, member of Porsche’s board of management in charge of sales and marketing. “The next day, several hundred. We are creating a brand destination. A place to be in contact with the people who work for this brand.” I met with von Platen at the new Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles a few days before the official press conference and grand opening last week.
ABOVE: The low friction course. Yes, you get to drive a GT3RS at Experience Center LA.
“It is my job to ensure worldwide this brand stays emotional, aspirational, relevant in the future. We see this massive change coming in the auto industry. But it is a chance to open new fields,” says von Platen. In a world obsessed with the idea of autonomous driving, in which there is the threat drivers become passengers, physical and emotional connection is critical for a sporting brand like Porsche.
ABOVE: Porsche executives are a happy lot, with strong global sales. An embrace of the good life, centering on sports cars, is part of corporate culture. Photo by Marc Urbano.
“People want to buy a 911 one day because they had a childhood experience with an uncle or older brother. We have not created here a race track that might be scary, intimidating for some people. Experience Center is open for everybody, to make that connection with Porsche. A lot of fun, but a lot of education, too,” says von Platen. “Makes the brand more approachable.”
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ABOVE: The new $60 million Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles. Seen here, the infamous kickplate, a devilish device to provoke big slides at relatively low speeds, allowing a potential first-time sports car buyer the chance to learn the joy of driving without the intimidation of a high-speed racetrack.
“Autonomous driving is relevant for Porsche,” says von Platen. “You decide to go to the opera on Saturday night with your wife. To avoid the mess of the parking lot you say to your car, ‘Go park and in the meantime get recharged’ because we will have electric cars. ‘Then come back and pick me up at 1 o’clock.’ And of course in the meantime we can drink a glass of wine or two and not worry about driving home. That is a vision.”
Then he adds the important point: “But I believe that we shall always find a steering wheel in our cars in the future.”
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“We are the only car manufacturer offering this kind of destination,” says von Platen of the new facility, which sits at the convergence of the 110 and 405 freeways, across from the West Coast home of the Goodyear blimp. To those crawling along at 25 mph in the moving mass of the southbound 405, the sight of Porsches running along the perimeter handling course, or Cayennes climbing or descending the steep off-road obstacles, might seem like an oasis of driving fun.
ABOVE: The off-roading module’s steep ascent/descent hill is clearly seen from the 405 freeway. If a customer later ventures to the Leipzig Experience Center, he or she can drive a Cayenne over the decommissioned training grounds of the former East German military, with ascents that are steep as walls.
“We want people to come back, continue this journey. The next step is to go on the race track to hone skills. This is why we have the Sport Driving School with our lead instructor Jeff Purner in Birmingham, Alabama.
ABOVE” Plan view of the Experience Center.
“Porsche must remain emotional in the future, relevant for younger people. Not only wallpaper on your iPhone. Here at this center, you can touch it, feel it, smell it,” says von Platen. The Experience Center has a room filled with digital driving simulators, but a Porsche is about driving, enjoying the balance and capability of the car.
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“We are coming with a completely new car by the end of this decade, Mission e, a fully electrical car. Very important having this direction of innovative sporting machines that we keep connection to the heritage, keep this authenticity.” No surprise that Porsche Motorsports North America is now headquartered at the Experience Center, delivering Porsche race cars to customers. Motorsports includes a heritage division capable of restoring vehicles like the 12-cylinder 917 racecar seen here in Gulf livery.
ABOVE: A 12-cylinder 917, restored by the team of Californians at Experience Center LA.
“Driving pleasure is still very important. If you talk about the GT3, if you want best performance on the race track you will never be able to beat a PDK dual-clutch transmission anymore. Never ever,” he says. “But we continue to offer the manual transmission in some of our cars in the future.” You need three pedals and two hands to play the piano, and to drive a manual transmission Porsche. Both require art, and involvement. “Is it the most efficient way? No. But it is a pleasure, it’s a purity of driving a sports car.”
ABOVE: The ice hill has an epoxy sealant and is flooded by sprinklers, emulating low-grip conditions one might find on a drive to Tahoe, Mammoth or Park City during ski season.
Will there someday be a 911e, a fully electric 911 sports car? “We want to be authentic when we bring a sports car of this nature. Being able to reproduce the performance [of a gasoline-powered 911]. Creating huge acceleration figures [with an electric car] is one thing. But if you just do it once or twice and you must stop to cool down?” He cocks his head a little sideways. “We must come with all the attributes one expects of a sports car.” In short, if there is a 911e someday, it will not be merely an acceleration sled, nor will it be a stylish metal can for shuttling around uninvolved passengers. It will be a complete and balanced sports car.
ABOVE: 917 Café’s chef previously worked for the Getty Museum. An afternoon in the cars, then dinner, a perfect day for a couple.
“Dr. Porsche’s vision was originally to be a successful sports car manufacturer. In the future, it is exclusive sporty mobility company. We are looking at growth in dimensions in other fields.
“You start first with how you value success, value growth. We have never valued growth simply by having one KPI measurable, volume. Volume is a consequence. We want a substantial value-oriented growth, where we generate value, profit, in order to reinvest in our company.
“We are selling 200,000 cars annually in a world market that is 75 million cars. So less than 0.3 percent. Even if we sell 2-3 percent more each year in the next 10 or 15 years, we stay very exclusive. More important is to see how we act, how we behave. If you have a Porsche dealership with a lot of cars on its lot, where the demand is not balanced with supply, then you begin to behave in a way that would not be exclusive. I get more problems with people calling me saying, ‘Why can’t I get the car I want?’ Remember the outcry with the 911R? Porsche has to be exclusive. This is how we create with credibility what we want, aspiration.
“Our three main regions, Europe, North America, and Asia are absolutely perfectly balanced. United States and Canada represent about 25 percent of worldwide sales. Asia, including China, represents about 28 percent. And Europe is about 25-26 percent. If something slows down in China as we saw last year—it has come back pretty nicely this year—we balance with Europe and United States. Europe has come back very strongly this year. Helps us to counterbalance what is happening in the Middle East, with political tensions and oil price impacting strongly the regions. South America is not very healthy at the moment.
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“Russia is struggling at the moment, but will come back in the future. When Russia started to lose ground a few years ago, Porsche was the only brand that continued to grow. Russians like premium cars. They are very fond of innovations and they want the latest and they don’t like to wait. Not completely different from the United States.
“China has a much younger customer group, much younger than other countries. Talk about average age of 50, 51 in the States. In Europe, similar. You take ten years out in China. Don’t forget we sold perhaps 200 cars in 2000. Now 60,000. It is mostly an SUV and Panamera market. We have invested strongly in motorsport activity, not just Le Mans. but in WEC [World Endurance Championship] and our Cup cars race in China. Bringing Porsche race cars to countries like China has helped understanding of what is a 911…911 and Boxster sales are rapidly growing in China.” Shanghai will be the site of the sixth Porsche Experience Center, joining Leipzig, Silverstone, Le Mans, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
“Strongest two-door sports car market will remain the United States. This is where we have the biggest sports car culture. Along with Germany, the U.S. has the highest mix of 911 and 718 sales.” Porsche planted deep roots in California more than 60 years ago. The iconic Porsche Speedster was inspired by a chop-top Porsche 356 created by Johnny von Neumann, the West Coast Porsche distributor. Sales in greater Los Angeles are so strong the area is almost its own country.
ABOVE: Both U.S. Experience Centers are available to host corporate meetings that can include time on the many driving modules outside.
“We had this question many times with emissions standards and restrictions in the 1970s and ‘80s. People asked ‘How can you cope with this and keep the performance?’ Porsche engineering will find a way. The state we are in at the moment is positive. It is making sure…confirming the fact…that the sports car has a future. And there will always be a steering wheel in a Porsche.”
ABOVE: You can just see the freeway, right frame. ABOVE: The central hall of the Experience Center. ABOVE: The cafe. ABOVE: New headquarters for Porsche Motorsports North America. The Lowenbrau 962 dates to the first days of my career as an editor.