IdeaConference

BRAND IN DEMAND: PORSCHE GOES BEYOND STATUS AS NICHE PLAYER

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Porsche cars North America's sales are zooming.

Led by the new, more affordable Boxster, the sports car marketer expects to nearly double its annual unit sales from 7,145 in 1996 to 14,000 this year.

Just before Boxster's launch in January, Porsche described the two-seater as a key strategic product for both the company and the brand. And sales of the Boxster, Porsche's first new model in 18 years, led the German importer's limited lineup.

Porsche sold 10,664 cars in the U.S. from January through October, up 81.7% from the 5,858 sold during the same period in 1996, according to sister publication Automotive News.

Porsche's U.S. market share in the cars-only category doubled from 0.01% to 0.02% during the same 10-month period.

"Porsche is not such a niche brand anymore," said Rich Ford, senior VP-sales and marketing. "The Boxster really brought a lot of traffic into showrooms, people who never owned a Porsche before."

Most Porsche 911 buyers are 45 to 55 years old. Boxster, with a base price of $40,000, is fulfilling its mission of luring younger buyers. Mr. Ford said Boxster buyers are as young as 35 and cross more social and economic groups.

Prices on Porsche's other '97 models start at $63,750 for the 911 Carrera Coupe and go as high as $105,000 for the 911 Turbo Coupe.

TRUE SPORTS CARS

Mr. Ford said Porsche measures its market share in relation to a "select group of true sports cars," including comparable entries from BMW of North America, Mercedes-Benz of North America and Jaguar Cars, plus the Dodge Viper from Chrysler Corp. and General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Corvette.

Porsche has about 13% of that market compared to 8% a year ago, he said.

The importer changed marketing directions in 1994 after research revealed consumers perceived Porsche as exclusionary and cold. Since then, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, has injected tongue-in-check humor to soften the brand.

Look for Porsche, which will spend an expected $12 million on advertising for the 1998 model year, to do more direct mail and return to ride-and-drive invitations to competitive-vehicle owners after a five-year hiatus.

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