An Interview with the Man Who Helps Sell Porsches Around the World
A Porsche is a Porsche is a Porsche
We recently sat down with Detlev von Platen, former president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, now global sales chief and member of the executive board of Porsche AG in Stuttgart, to discuss Porsche's current marketing strategies in America and abroad.
AM: How does the brand Porsche resonate around the world?
DVP: Porsche is one of very few brands that has global impact in a very consistent way. It is a very authentic, exclusive brand, staying very true and very loyal to its values. We always keep our tradition very strong in everything we do — making sure when we develop a new car, when we go in a new direction, we have a link to our origins. Yes, we are a performance sports car company, but we try also to be different in the way we develop and produce performance cars that you can use everyday…I think we deliver an experience.
We compensate by creating a very authentic, analog experience. This brand's personality and this brand's values I think are very well known and consistent around the world. If you go to China, which was a market without any Porsches just fifteen years ago, and you ask a customer or an owner of Porsche, he [or she] would exactly understand and describe this brand.
AM: Describe your market in China.
DVP: The awareness of Porsche was strong well before we started to sell cars in China. We have younger people in China than Europe or the United States. We have less tradition in terms of sports cars, so the Cayenne or Panamera has a bigger mix. But we still have our roots, this center of gravity very strongly set in the brand. The United States is the market for us where the sports car tradition is the strongest.
I think what we realized…we have had a lot of new customers who'd never considered starting with the 911. They started with the Cayenne, and then, suddenly this car speaks to them and the brand talks to them, and [they] would like to try the 911. So, good synergies between all. I believe if you go to China you will see more Cayenne in terms of shares of sales, but I think the brand is really consistent in terms of values everywhere.
AM: Does your "always evolutionary, never revolutionary" design language ever affect your message? Don't mean for that to be offensive, but…
DVP: It is not offensive. It is a clear strategy. I mean, take the 911. You put a child in front of the 911 [sold in 1963…the first one] then put him today in front of this 911, and he recognizes it immediately. It's very important that we keep the center of gravity. The 911 is…the center of gravity. It shows the DNA our engineers use. We are keeping the design, which is easy to understand, pure, with very clear lines, and consistent through the model lines. Seeing the Cayenne and seeing the Macan, you would understand very quickly these cars come from a brand that has this history around 356 and beginning of the 911. Because all the lines you find, the topography of the design if I may call it, with the shoulders and the lines of the hood and everything — it is something you'll find throughout our models, always.
AM: So then how do you adapt nuance from market to market, from product to product? Are you changing the tone of Porsche's message or what?
DVP: It's about tonality, it's about the message you are bringing out, it's about the people acting within the brand, and it's bringing the essence of Porsche. We are not just talking about product; we are talking about the history. We are talking development processes; we are consistent in different product strategies.
When we hire a new employee or a partner or dealer, this is something you learn. When you work with Porsche, you learn about humility, you learn about being competitive, you learn about being proud of what you do without being arrogant…this is what we call the culture of product, the culture of development.
This is maybe something that also makes Porsche unique. If you worked for Porsche, you may understand this; we are centered in a very family-oriented company where the founders are still very present. There are some very strong sentiments that resonate everyday when you work with Porsche. I have been working twenty years for Porsche, and now one year in the center of Porsche in Germany. This is something you really feel when you look and work with the engineers.
AM: Seeing how engineering is at the center of Porsche's world, that must be one of the biggest parts of your brand message, no?
DVP: You would be surprised by not only how many Americans but also how many Chinese come to visit our factories to understand what is behind [our cars]. How does the engineering work at Porsche? You need to be simple. The world is changing very quickly and people are more and more looking for [consistency]. Not something that [the world] is changing too quickly, and of course [people] want innovation, and to say [Porsche isn't talking about] innovation would be absolutely wrong. I get the question very often, "Alright, Porsche, you are a sports car manufacturer, so what do you think automated driving — not for you, right?" No, of course we are looking at these different technologies. Future connected car technology is very important, automated driving is important, electrification — who would have thought we would consider putting an electric motor in a Porsche? If you keep this visible and clear and simple in the way you explain our products, you will see very strong development, consistent development.
AM: Tell us a bit about how Porsche plans to market EVs.
DVP: We are in the middle of development of this new Mission E. I have to be absolutely honest, I never imagined having a front-drive electric car. We are not developing an electric car and putting a Porsche badge on it. We are developing a Porsche with completely new technology. Will there be only this in the future? I don't think so, but it will be one of our directions. I think the combustion engine has a future — sound is important, vibration is important for us. But I think this internal competition of different technologies will be very exciting for us, and I'm looking forward to it.
AM: Will you always be pushing a halo sports car?
DVP: You have the sense the last car [Porsche builds] will be a sports car. You might think in twenty years you won't see a car with a steering wheel. You will see all kinds of robots driving around without actual engines — yeah, might be. But the last car [Porsche] will have will have a steering wheel…with all technologies, but a steering wheel. Nobody needs a 911. We still hope that everybody wants one.