Some automakers unveiled a half-dozen vehicles at the Frankfurt Motor Show, but Porsche had just one: the new, 991-generation of the 911. To learn more about the seventh iteration of the 911, we sat down with Porsche president and CEO Matthias Muller, board member for sales and marketing Bernhard Maier, and Porsche Cars North America CEO Detlev von Platen.
One thing is for certain: all three are extremely proud of the new car, which draws huge crowds all through the Frankfurt press days. "The seventh one if by far the best 911 we have ever built," Maier said. "We want to have the ultimate driving machine, and we want to have sustainable high performance, and this is what we find in this car."
Maier said that one of the most notable changes is that the Porsche now offers a greater range between its sporty and comfortable sides. A longer wheelbase, adaptive suspension damping, and other innovations mean that the new 911 can at times be more comfortable, and at others more sporting, than the prior generation.
Even though sales of the Cayenne SUV and Panamera sedan have come to represent a big part of Porsche's bottom line, Muller said that Porsche remains committed to pure driving machines like the 911. "The 911 is an icon," he said, "And it represents the brand values that are important to Porsche."
To that end, Porsche will probably continue selling cars with manual transmissions for some time -- even as competitors ditch three-pedal transmissions in favor of automatics and dual-clutch units. The new 911 is available with a seven-speed manual gearbox. Although Maier asserts that his company's PDK dual-clutch transmission is excellent, he admits Porsche will still continue to sell stick-shift cars so long as there is demand for them.
"I suppose that a lot of sports car drivers still love to shift, to push the clutch, and to feel everything," Maier said.
The current 911, generation 997, has spawned over 20 different models, ranging from sporting convertibles to hard-edged race machines. Muller implies that, although it's too early to discuss specifics, the same pattern will probably be true of the new 911. "Why not?" he asked. "Everything [with the 997] was very successful, so why not?"
One possibility is a new 911 Targa. Muller admits that the 997-generation Targa wasn't really true to its name; he says it was more of a 911 with a big sunroof. So if Porsche launches a new 911 Targa, and we think it will, expect it to have unique bodywork and a fully removable roof panel.
The Porsche family currently numbers five models, but Muller would like even more. That would help the company keep building buzz with new or redesigned cars every year. He says the company should have six or seven vehicles, and says we may learn more about those plans in the next six to 12 months.
There certainly is enough demand for new Porsches: sales for the company are up significantly this year compared to 2010. The U.S. remains Porsche's largest market, with China a close second. About 32 percent of all 911 sales globally come from American customers, a trend von Platen expects will continue with the 991-generation car.
China is only the fifth largest market worldwide for the 911. Rules that impose taxes on cars with engines larger than 3.0 liters mean most Chinese customers opt for the Boxster or Cayman.
Porsche also is planning to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The company is awaiting the next batch of rules from the FIA, due by the end of this year, before deciding what type of race car to build. The new 911 also will be entered in several race series "soon."
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