Americans Want Trucks, But No One Told Porsche

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The end of 2018 brought a series of plans by U.S. automakers to double down on their strategies for light trucks and electric vehicles. Seven out of 10 new cars now bought in the U.S. are light trucks or SUVs. Americans like big vehicles; big vehicles are more profitable for automakers. Even Ford Motor Co. announced that a full 90 percent of its capital allocation over the next five years will go to “trucks and utilities.”

Americans Want Trucks, But No One Told Porsche

No one seems to have told Porsche Automobil Holding SE, however. Last year, the company logged its seventh straight year of record sales in North America, and its fastest-growing model was the four-door Panamera, with 19.5 percent sales growth year over year. Sales of its full-sized Cayenne SUV fell by 18.7 percent, though sales of its smaller Macan SUV rose almost 10 percent.

Americans Want Trucks, But No One Told Porsche

In 2017, I described Porsche as “an SUV company that also happens to have a small sedan business and steadily shrinking relative sales of sports coupes.” Now, it’s that formerly shrinking coupe business — and the small-sedan business — that’s growing at the expense of the large SUVs.

Americans Want Trucks, But No One Told Porsche

It’s part of a small but notable trend in the U.S.: Wealthier Americans are skipping SUVs for station wagons, including the newly stretched Panamera (starting price: $86,300).

It’s worth noting, too, that Porsche’s strategy for fully electrified vehicles runs through its auto, not its light truck, platform. The Taycan, set to launch later this year, is a four-door sedan, not a truck or two-door sports coupe. And it’s in high demand: Porsche has said it wants to double its planned Taycan production (starting price: low $90,000s) to 40,000 per year, more than all North American sales of its SUV models combined. In Norway, consumers have reportedly placed reservations for 3,000 Taycans, where Porsche’s total annual sales are about 600 vehicles.

All that said, Porsche is still all in on performance and the prestige badging that goes with it. As the Drive’s Alex Roy noted last month, the performance model of the Porsche Taycan sedan will be called the Turbo … in a vehicle with no turbocharger:

I really wanted to hate Porsche's decision here, but it's actually brilliant. Whether or not we like it, EVs are inevitable, and we should all be excited that one of the world's coolest sports car brands is diving in, not only with what appears to be a terrific car, but with nomenclature that has real history.

A turbo electric vehicle is a technical oxymoron but perhaps a useful connotation: It’s a machine for drivers and enthusiasts, while also being electric. And at a time when another prestige brand — in this instance, Apple Inc. — has cut 200 employees from its driverless-car program, it’s a reminder that cars are still for drivers.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Nathaniel Bullard is a BloombergNEF energy analyst, covering technology and business model innovation and system-wide resource transitions.

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