Your humble E-I-C is a fairly committed capitalist tool, in pretty much all senses of the phrase, but I’m also a fairly ardent reader of left-leaning publications and books. This month’s Adbusters throws a shout out to Porsche by reprinting a recent Cayman ad and superimposing a description of narcissistic personality disorder on it. To be fair, the first stereotype regarding Porsche owners probably sprang into existence when the first customer for the Gmund coupe drove it past his neighbor on the way home from taking delivery, but it’s easy to argue that the company’s actions of the past fifteen years have done a lot to make those stereotypes more true than ever.
Porsche fans and owners have always battled the stereotype of the P-car driver as a pathetic little prick hiding behind the pricetag and alleged superiority of his hilariously overpriced German status symbol. For much of the first fifty years that Porsche was in business, however, the company’s defenders could offer the same milled-stainless rebuttal that aficionados of Rolex watches, PRS guitars, Huntsman suits, and Pelikan pens could use: yeah, the stuff costs more money than anybody should pay, and yeah the product may be the choice of various unlovely and/or reprehensible individuals, but it’s engineered and built to a superior standard. The product has merit apart from the social message it sends. Oftentimes that’s a valid defense. I was recently taken to task by a member of the B&B for bragging about my PRS Private Stock guitars, and I’ll admit that he had a point, but if you played a PRS-PS guitar with no markings on it you’d immediately notice that it’s made to a standard that you don’t get anywhere else. Res ipsa loquitur and all that, homie.
(That same member of the B&B also implied I was a fan of Joe Bonnamassa. A repeat of that allegation by him or anyone else will earn that individual the title of First Member Of Our August Commenting Community To Be Banned Under The New Regime, by the way, as will the use of the phrase “Black Rock” without concurrent use of the name “Vernon Reid”.)
Say what you want about the yuppie Carrera explosion of the Eighties, but those 3.2-liter aircooled cars were built to last indefinitely. They don’t rust and although they are far from trouble-free, they last and last and last. That statement could be applied to most Porsches built before 1997, even the 944 and its descendants. There are a lot of 150,000-mile cars out there with numbers on the door at PCA meets. The normally-aspirated eight-valve 944 continues to be represented in staggering numbers in almost all forms of club racing, and it’s not just because people love them.
That was then, and this is now. The thousand injuries of water-cooled Porsche I have borne the best I can, and others have done the same, but the arrival of the Cayenne and Panamera made it absolutely plain that the company was no longer interested in creating durable and venerable products. The endless bleating by the “Stuttgart syndrome” crowd about how the manufacture of two-ton glandular-dysfunction blob-mobiles was absolutely essential to maintaining Porsche’s independence has been hilariously deconstructed by the fact that Porsche’s stewards used the money for fiscal adventurism even as they claimed to have pockets too empty to create a proper four-cylinder entry-level car. The company is now half-owned by Volkswagen, making the Cayenne, Pajun, and Panamera approximately as necessary to the company’s plans as would be a Bugatti medium-duty pickup.
The days when Porsche ran advertisements like this:
are long gone. Today it is assumed that the prospective buyer is a moneyed moron looking to attach his image to, er, “carve his niche” with, the most expensive Porsche he can afford. The merits of the product, where discussed, are done so nebulously. The important thing is that the car look like a Porsche and that it incur feeling of envy and/or hatred in one’s peers. The modern cars might blow their engines or nav screens 30,000 miles into the ownership process, but what customer would keep the car that long.
I will forever cherish a conversation I had on Facebook with PCNA’s Communications Manager a few years ago. I was discussing my frustration with the company’s direction when the fellow, upon learning that my newest Porsche was four years old, said something very snarky along the lines of “we’re not in the business of catering to the desires of used car buyers” or something like that. I cannot express how much pleasure it gave me to buy an Audi S5 instead of a 911 when the time came to do so. I guarantee that you can show up at a PRS event with a used Private Stock — hell, a used SE model — and you won’t hear any shit like that from Paul Reed Smith, because he’s smart enough to know that it’s commercial suicide for a company to turn their back on people who bought their last guitar/car/watch four years ago. Ferrari sure as hell doesn’t treat their clients that way.
It amounts to the Hublot-ization of a brand that should know better. The market will eventually teach Porsche the error of its current ways, but when you build up fifty years’ worth of goodwill it takes a lot time to fritter it all away. Even when that happens, the company will certainly have new customers. Consider the BRIC and the MIST and the Saudi states. It’s a supply of narcissists deeper than the oil shale in Canada and twice as profitable, and the best news is this: you can burn the Porsche customer base again and again, but the supply of idiots is truly abiotic. You can probably never burn it up.