Panamera. Is it a Porsche Prostitute or...

... a panacea? I couldn't get used to the idea that if your space needs ever outgrew a 911, Porsche prescribed you another one of their models. Until I actually drove the Cayenne, that is. No other SUV - with the emphasis on the “S” letter - is alike. The way a Cayenne Turbo can handle the Autobahn at close to its 275 km/h (171 mph) top speed and afterwards help you get to your private mountain cabin in Val d'Isere is as close to astonishing as an ice-skating midget on 10 feet long stilts. OK, so Porschephiles had the Boxster, the Cayman, all the variations in the 911 range and last but not least, the Cayenne. Some would say that's already a bit over the limit for a sports car manufacturer on the look out for exclusivity. Others, and I'm looking at you Mr Wendelin Wiedeking, would say that another model would be the perfect next step in their growth on markets like China, Russia and the Middle East. What's in a name?
Let's look at the new Panamera in detail. It is not the first Porsche hatchback, since the Audi-engined 924 takes that cake, it is also not the first five-door model from Zuffenhausen, since the Cayenne already fits that spot. What is it then? Could the name be of any significance? Panamera. Panamerica. Panamericana. Hmm, this sounds familiar.

There was a time in the early 1950s when one of the world's longest (and highest) races was taking place yearly in Mexico. That race was called “La Carrera Panamericana”, which in English would unimaginatively sound something like “The Pan-American Race”. Porsche won the Small Sports Car category of the 1954 edition with a 550 RS Spyder and finished third and fourth in the overall class. This apparently impressed them so much that they decided to name some of their best cars “Carrera” after this race. We're talking about the 356, 904, 911, 924 and the Carrera GT, all of them sharing the Spanish name for “race”.

This is not all. As I mentioned earlier, the race was called “La Carrera Panamericana”. Coincidentally or not, at the 1989 Frankfurt Motor Show Porsche revealed a concept called the “Panamericana”. Although it was a hybrid between a coupe, a targa model and a sporty off-roader, the Panamericana concept spawned some of the lines to be found on the first Boxster. OK, so what does this prototype has in common with the Panamera? Well, just about the same as the original Mexican race had with the other Porsche cars named after it. Nada.

An earlier, 1988 concept car would have more in common with the Panamera though, since it was practically the first four-door Porsche in history. The 989 prototype had an air-cooled engine in the rear, as opposed to the water-cooled engines sitting in the front on the Panamera, but the overall lines and idea behind the concept are all there.
Profit or bust
The Panamera is launched in the first full-year of the world economic recession, so it comes at a time when everybody is buying less cars. Even the world's profitability champion of the automotive world (read: our very own Porsche AG) would be making less and less money sans its Volkswagen shares, so how will the new model prove for the company?

Last year I had the chance to visit Porsche's Leipzig plant, where the Carrera GT was born and the Panamera will be manufactured - on the same production line with the Cayenne, I should add. While strolling around the winding and suspended Cayenne production line, my guide Hans told me that by the same time in 2009 both Panamera and Cayenne bodies would hang from the very same ceiling in random order, depending on how many of each are ordered during a given time. By the way, I have no pictures since I wasn't allowed to carry a camera inside, sorry.

In other words, even if the Panamera proves to be a slow seller compared to the initial prevision of 20,000 models to be sold each year, it might actually be a pretty safe bet. I don't have an exact figure for the total investment in the development of the Panamera, but taking into account it shares a lot of its parts, including engines and transmissions, with the Cayenne, it shouldn't be too much compared to a “regular” 100% new car.

Yes, in the end I think the design-wise debated Panamera is nothing but good news for the manufacturer in Zuffenhausen, especially since even Wendelin Wiedeking himself had good words about it in a moderately enthusiastic letter about the recession to Porsche employees: “With the launch of the Panamera we will surely succeed in stabilizing our sales in the coming year.” Will they, now? We'll talk about it in about a year or so...


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