Good Thinking: Porsche Pulls Out of the Detroit Auto Show

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
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good thinking porsche pulls out of the detroit auto show

One day, an admirer asked Herr Doktor Sigmund Freud if his favorite tobacco product was a phallic symbol. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” Freud reportedly replied. By the same token, when Porsche North America announced that they’d turned their back on the Detroit auto show because it’s a waste of money, the German automaker turned their back on the Detroit auto show because it’s a waste of money.

The obviousness– and obvious importance– of Porsche’s withdrawal from the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) was lost on America’s mainstream automotive press. Detroit’s journalistic Janus (the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News) concentrated on the effect of Porsche’s pull-out on their home town show vis-à-vis the competition: LA, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, etc.

“Detroit auto show digs in to defend its perch” the Detroit News headline announced. Quoting an unnamed New York Times blogger, the article was quick to put the diss in disinformation: "So Porsche is, in effect, telling the Detroit show: Despite your name, we don't consider you 'America's auto show.' To us, you're local — with only local appeal.”

Needless to say, this loosely attributed analysis became the official media line, complete with sales figures revealing Detroit's paucity of Porsches. The reporting left readers with the impression that Germany’s sports car maker was discounting the importance of the spiritual home of American automaking ‘cause the locals weren’t buying enough Porkers. Schwein!

Yes, well, in the press release announcing their Motown-missing maneuver, Porsche’s marketing Veep went out of his way to kiss Detroit’s ass mollify Renaissance City supporters (motto: “Speramus Meliora" or "We hope for better things”). David Pryor also spelled out the company’s exact reasoning.

“As a media showcase for new products, the Detroit Auto Show is clearly the premier international auto show in North America," Pryor proclaimed. “Still, as Porsche strives to seek new, more personal ways to directly reach out and communicate to its potential customer base, we need to look beyond the traditional consumer auto show — even ones that are highly renowned in the industry."

In other words, Porsche isn’t dumping Detroit. It’s retrenching on auto shows in general. And why wouldn’t they? There’s simply no getting around the fact that if you calculate the direct return on investment– the marketing bang-for-the-buck– auto shows are a hideous waste of time, effort and money.

Porsche ain’t saying, but their NAIAS no-show will probably save the company over a million dollars. And that’s without calculating the costs of interrupting Porsche’s ongoing projects to sequester their A-team in Cobo’s dark labyrinth. Or the psychological toll exacted on the execs by the epic glad-handing.

But the real story is, again, exactly what David Pryor said it was: the world’s most profitable automaker (on a per unit basis) has recognized that there are better ways to “communicate” with the only really important element of the entire marketing equation: the people who help Porsche pay the bills.

That said, our friends at the sharp end tell us they’ve haven't heard word of any “new” or “more personal” marketing programs. As far as they know, other than a significant increase in Porsche’s print ads (promoting Cayman and Cayenne lease deals), the company isn’t using the auto show budget to launch a radical marketing campaign. Ah, but will they?

Even in the absence of any specific initiative, one can speculate that Porsche has realized that automotive marketing has undergone a paradigm shift; that “high touch” and highly-targeted electronic contact are the way forward. There's certainly evidence of an evolution.

For example, the next fourteen classes at the Porsche Driving Experience at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama are sold out. Porsche’s added new “Women’s-only” instruction and corporate classes that can accommodate up to 100 fast-moving movers and shakers. At the same time, the Porsche Travel Club is offering a new “Camp4 Colorado” package in Vail, where owners and potential customers hoon in the snow hone their winter driving skills in 911 C4 and Cayenne variants.

As for the electronic side, well, here’s hoping. In truth, no automaker has fully grasped the cyber-nettle. As a Porsche Boxster S owner, I’ve been contacted about my car, potential upgrades, lifestyle items, car club membership, the aforementioned courses and my friends’ driving habits exactly, oh, never. Before purchasing the vehicle, I engaged in precisely no “personal" communications with the company.

Surely, THIS is where all those auto show billions SHOULD be going: using the Internet to establish direct, relevant and ongoing contact with potential automotive buyers and existing owners, and then bringing these contacts into direct and intimate contact with the product. Until someone seizes that opportunity, companies withdrawing their money from auto shows to spend on traditional marketing will be close, but no cigar.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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2 of 34 comments
  • Starlightmica Starlightmica on Jun 25, 2007

    So if Porsche had pulled out a decade ago after introducing the Boxster concept, they would have had $10 million. Damn. Can anyone say, PDK for the street? Years ago?

  • Jerseydevil Jerseydevil on Jun 26, 2007

    Frankly, I always thought auto shows were a waste of time. I have been to a few of them, they are crouded with 14 year old boys who sit in all the cars all day and push buttons. Perhaps its that i am out of love with new cars - they all look kinda the same any more - there are few suprises. I much prefer to go to outdoor summer car festivals or concours type shows. They are, well - lazier. And better. There are much cooler cars, and usually the old car show space is ringed by new car manufacturers anyway, if you feel the need to sit in that jag you lusting after. Then you can have a gin and tonic after at an outside bar. Bliss! I like the Greenwich Concours, the New Hope PA Auto show, and the Radnor Hunt Concours. Fun.

  • Kwik_Shift One day I'll bring myself around to trying one of these out, with manual transmission. They look fun.
  • Zipper69 It worked in London, because the center of that city is a medieval layout ON TOP of a Roman layout, both designed for horse drawn traffic.Manhattan's grid and the available public transport options are a different matter.
  • Jkross22 To give a sense of priorities, Oakland has had a 50% jump in car thefts from last year. 40 cars per day are stolen in Oakland. Also in Oakland.... the city has a shortage of 911 operators so if/when you call, you're SOL. That is because they are saying no one is applying to the open 911 jobs. When an audit was recently done, over 1000 applicants applied to the 911 jobs, but no one had contacted them. Any of them. HR still earns the term "human remains". After Xi Xingpeng returned to China from his SF visit, all of the homeless people returned to the streets of San Francisco. They were all magically whisked away for his visit, something our governor was quite proud of doing. Makes you wonder why SF residents can't get that kind of treatment everyday. With all of the big problems solved, CA reps can focus on the real problems in the state.... making those MAGA rural volleyball team buses go all electric no matter whether EV buses make sense or not. And this guy wants to be president.....
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh Dear whiny people .. keep a small number of diesel busses. replace the rest .. my god people like sticking poles in their own bike spokes...
  • Canam23 I moved to Los Angeles in 1968 and the air was barely breathable. Thanks to the mandating of pollution controls and the work of the Air Quality Management District, it's 100% better today. When the first pollution targets were set in the 70's, Detroit moaned that it would be impossible to achieve, meanwhile the Japanese sat down and figured out how to do it. As a result of the constant strengthening of the anti pollution laws, our air is much less dangerous for our children. Furthermore, engineering has now created very clean, powerful and efficient engines. So Stellantis, I'm not buying it.