The recent grand opening of Checkered Flag’s new Jaguar-Land Rover-Porsche showroom in Virginia Beach was a party worthy of the multimillion-dollar facility, with live music, valet parking and catered food. "The party atmosphere is what we were hoping to generate," said Richard Hutsko, the dealership’s general manager.
There was reason to celebrate beyond the new digs. Porsche Cars North America President and CEO Detlev von Platen and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Bartsch flew in from headquarters in Atlanta to mark the occasion.
It may seem unusual for a company’s CEO and COO to take the time to attend a dealer grand opening, but not to von Platen.
"They are investing a lot of money in our brand," he said. "I think it’s absolutely the minimum a CEO of a brand could do to recognize the investment."
Von Platen said the company is not looking to add to its roster of 191 dealers in the United States. Instead, it is hoping to increase sales from its existing network. And like any retailer, be it Abercrombie & Fitch or Neiman Marcus, the right atmosphere is important.
"We are not selling cars; we are selling an experience," he said. "We want them to stay and experience the brand, to smell the brand, to touch the brand."
Bartsch put a finer point on it. "I think that one of the really important principles is that, no matter where you are, when you walk into a Porsche dealership, you recognize it as being Porsche."
It’s more important than ever, now that Porsche’s product line has grown beyond the sports car segment. The company has long been known for its iconic 911 sports car and its less expensive stablemates, the Boxster and the Cayman. That changed in 2003, with the introduction of the Cayenne SUV and, in 2010, with the four-door Panamera. A smaller SUV, the Macan, joins the lineup later this year.
Von Platen doesn’t believe that Porsche’s image has been watered down by its wider array of products.
"We are still a sports car manufacturer," he said. "The United States has a very strong culture in terms of sports cars, and everybody has clearly understood that even the Panamera and the Cayenne are the sports cars in their respective segments. So I don’t see any kind of risk of dilution of the brand."
But they are not taking any chances. Porsche will introduce the 918 Spyder by year’s end, a plug-in hybrid sports car with as much as 800 horsepower. Yet it will average 73 mpg and run for up to 20 miles solely on electricity, according to von Platen.
"It was very important that we show to the world and to our owners that the Porsche future is clearly there."
But, he adds, "We clearly know our roots."
To that end, the company will return to Le Mans in 2014 with a new LMP1 race car, its first in years.
"We are coming back," he said with a smile. "As you know, we are huge players with a lot of experience, but we are not coming back here with a lot of arrogance."
They can’t. The competition is too strong, even from corporate sibling Audi. Still, it should make for some interesting racing. Referring to their competitors, von Platen said, "I am sure that we can make them unhappy."
And for Porsche aficionados, that’s reason enough to throw a party.