Klaus Zellmer has held several positions outside of the U.S. during his 20-year career with Porsche, but he has had a soft spot for America ever since a seminal visit in his teens. Before taking the company’s top post in North America, Zellmer, 49, most recently was CEO of Porsche Germany from 2010 to 2015 followed by a brief stint as head of overseas markets, which put him in charge of operations spanning 72 countries from Asia to Africa. Over the past 18 months, he oversaw the completion of the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles and helped guide the marque to record sales in the U.S. in 2016.
Automobile Magazine: Tell us about your experiences in the U.S. before you took the top job here.
KZ: My very first time in the country actually was when I was 19, and I flew over from Germany to Los Angeles and bought a car there. People laugh about it because I bought an Oldsmobile Delta 88 for $800 with my best buddy. Then we took three months traveling from L.A. to New York. We zigzagged the U.S. being fascinated by this country.
AM: Did you expect to end up in this business, even back then?
KZ: I started studying business and automotive marketing, and I was awarded a scholarship to go to Florida in the beginning of the ’90s. That’s where I actually realized I was always a car guy. I was working with my own cars during school already. Enhancing them. Selling them. Buying some more and selling them again. So I was always fascinated by that, and then working in the U.S. you realize how advanced — even 20 years, 25 years ago — this market already was in terms of competition and bigger dealer groups. It was always part of my agenda that I’d love to work in the U.S. for Porsche someday, and that dream came true one and a half years ago.
AM: How have the Porsche experience centers in Atlanta and L.A. helped your business so far?
KZ: We want to provide an environment that is ideal to really experience the brand in all its facets. Be it on the track, on-road, off-road. To the limit. Beyond the limit. With a professional instructor to really take the cars into a situation you normally don’t encounter on normal roads. So that really is something that gets the heart racing of all customers in that sort of environment. We had 46,000 people visit the Atlanta Porsche Center last year. We already have 10,000 people who visited Los Angeles [since November 2016]. Does it sell cars? We think it does.
AM: What are your dealers asking from you?
KZ: I think we have a very good relationship with our dealer partners, and we really consider them dealer partners and not just dealers. If you ask them currently what we need to do for them to make more money, it is deliver more 911s, for example. We’re short, consciously short, on 911s because we’d much rather under deliver, under supply.
AM: To what extent do you want to do so?
KZ: Now the formula actually is that we want to deliver one car less than the market is willing to take. That doesn’t always work, but that’s our principle we work with. What else would a dealer ask? They’d love to have more Macans because that car is really strong. We are bringing new people to the brand. Close to 70 percent of the entry-level model Macan buyers are new to the brand.
AM: How is the production version of the Mission E car progressing?
KZ: Our Mission E car will live up to its brand values. We’re the first ones to deliver an 800-volt system, a range well beyond 300 miles, acceleration that will live up to our customers’ expectations. Less than 3.5 seconds from 0 to 60 mph. The charging time is less than 20 minutes up to an 80 percent charging level of your car, which is also something that nobody else can deliver. By the end of the decade, we think the technology will be right to fulfill or exceed the expectations of Porsche customers. If you look at the performance criteria of electric cars, that’s very close to what Porsche loves, what our customers love.
AM: Then there’s the anti-electric, the latest 911 GT3 that was just revealed.
KZ: If you drive it, it’s a track machine — 500 horsepower, naturally aspirated. We’re taking it even to another extreme by offering customers an optional manual gearbox [unlike the previous GT3]. When you compare manual versus a double-clutch system, the double-clutch from a rational point of view makes more sense. However, the customer has all the choice. If customers want to be more engaged, lose a little time on the track or while accelerating, they can have it.
AM: What do you like to do when you’re not on the clock?
KZ: My only hobby at the moment actually is my family. Now, I am a car guy, and I’m turning 50 this year, so my big project this year is to find a 1967 911S that I would like to purchase and give myself as a present.