Automotive / Nostalgia. When the Cayenne saved Porsche…


The history of the Cayenne begins with a study commissioned by Hans Riedel, Porsche sales manager at the time. The question is: “Can Porsche survive with only the 911 and the Boxster in the catalog?” » »

After a few weeks, the response from market research falls and it is final. To continue to exist in the XXIe century, Porsche will have to diversify. The “only way for Porsche to find an upward slope without depending solely on the classic sports car market”.

A Porsche capable of crossing, a real challenge for the engineers

What should the third Porsche look like?

The decision is made, the “third Porsche” project is launched. But which vehicle to offer?

Five alternative vehicle concepts are being considered by management. The first three are quickly discarded and “the final” opposes two projects. On one side a luxury minivan and on the other a sporty SUV. At the time, minivans were selling well all over the world.

But Porsche cannot make a decision before consulting its American team. The United States is a huge market for the German brand.

From the outset, the leaders of Porsche USA are categorical and have shocking arguments. True, pickups were especially popular in the American market. But especially among families with many children and a low level of income.

Meanwhile, large SUVs were selling well, including CSP+.

Porsche USA vetoes the minivan, in Germany the decision is made: the third Porsche will be an SUV.

A partnership with Mercedes

Quite quickly, Porsche became aware of the need to join forces with a partner to design its first SUV. By using an already existing base, the brand will save hundreds of millions of euros in development, while saving a lot of time.

The first partner considered is Mercedes-Benz. The manufacturer with the star must indeed launch its Class M in 1997 and Porsche knows it. The first contacts are encouraging and Mercedes-Benz is not at all opposed to partnering with Porsche on this project.

The agreement was quickly sealed and the teams from the two manufacturers began to work together. “At this stage, we see the Porsche SUV as a performance version of Mercedes’ future M-Class,” says Klaus-Gerhard Wolpert, Cayenne product manager for twelve years.

The Cayenne was almost derived from a Mercedes M-Class, but the project fell through. Porsche media

From Mercedes-Benz to Volkswagen

“The car would have had its own exterior design, lots of M-Class technology, but engines and chassis components from us,” says the project manager.

The Porsche-Mercedes cooperation agreed in the summer of 1996 was progressing well, but towards the end of the year money problems between the two companies forced Porsche to withdraw from the project. We had to start all over again and find a new partner.

Although Volkswagen and Porsche are not yet members of the same group, the chairman of the board of directors of Volkswagen, Ferdinand Piëch, grandson of the founder of the Porsche company, Ferdinand Porsche, will welcome this project.

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Extending Porsche's success to SUVs, a real challenge for the brand

Extending Porsche’s success to SUVs, a real challenge for the brand

Driving a Porsche is prohibited!

To give its engineers an idea of ​​the demands of developing an SUV, the management of Porsche will make an unusual decision via its director Wolpert: “I have asked all my division heads to return their Porsche company cars. We bought a number of SUVs such as the BMW X5, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mercedes M-Class. Engineers and managers had to drive these models on a daily basis, and every month we were running them.”

A way for Porsche to instill SUV culture in its troops. The engineers are therefore interested in the storage spaces, the height of the loading sill, the folding rear seats or the crossing capacities.

The shape of the wings, an essential feature at Porsche. Porsche media

Differentiating the Cayenne from the Touareg

The other challenge will be to make a real Porsche from a Volkswagen Touareg. The chassis, the windshield and the four doors of the two SUVs are indeed identical.

“In profile, the doors define the personality of a car. Behind the back door, we have maybe a meter left, it doesn’t leave much room to do anything,” explains Mauer, one of the engineers. To differentiate themselves, the designers will work hard, spending an entire year on the headlights alone.

The highlight of the fenders and headlights is above the hood, an essential feature for a Porsche and a real challenge when it comes to fitting a big V8 engine under the hood.

The Cayenne will be very poorly received by fans of the brand.

The Cayenne will be very poorly received by fans of the brand.

A remarkable presentation

In September 2002, a good four years after the decision to build the Cayenne was made public, the first five-seater Porsche celebrated its world premiere at the Paris Motor Show.

For Wendelin Wiedeking, boss of Porsche, the company plays very big that day: “This day, there is no doubt in my mind, will have a historical significance for the company. »

Within Porsche, the Cayenne was quickly accepted, unlike the brand’s purists who cried foul. For fans and clubs of the brand, a five-door five-seater Porsche is already heresy, so a vulgar 4×4…

A success that continues today.jpeg

A success that continues today.jpeg

The Cayenne saved the brand

The numbers will prove Porsche right. While the manufacturer was counting on 25,000 sales per year, Porsche will market 276,652 copies of the first generation, or 35,000 per year.

Since its launch, more than one million Cayennes have been sold.

“With the Cayenne, we succeeded for the first time in successfully transferring the Porsche legend to a completely new market segment,” says Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG. And to save a legendary brand.


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