A highly-subsidised Porsche buffet is helping potential customers choose their next car
SEPANG, MALAYSIA — This might be the most first world of first world problems, but if at some point in your life you’ve decided to reward yourself with a Porsche, you immediately face a vexing conundrum: which Porsche?
That’s something the Porsche World Road Show is designed to help you answer. It’s billed as a “professional driving event”, but is really a way for you to sample a battery of Porsche models.
“It gives you the possibility to drive the cars in a safe and friendly driving environment,” says Paul Robinson, a driving instructor for Porsche.
Choosing a Porsche isn’t as easy as it sounds. For Singapore alone, Porsche’s website lists 40 model variants.
The boutique sportscar maker may be famed for its 911 sportscar, but it has an enormous range of cars spread across two Sports Utility Vehicle lines, the Panamera luxury sedan, two mid-engined sportscars, and a petrol-electric hypercar inspired by its LeMans 24 Hours-winning racing machines.
As for the 911 itself, that comes in 16 flavours.
The PWRS returned to Malaysia this year after a decade-long hiatus. It runs until July 21st, with 280 potential customers from around the region getting their hands on 22 Porsche models at the Sepang Formula One circuit.
That makes it a medium-sized edition of the event, which has so far reached 42,000 participants in 45 countries.
While getting to drive at high speed in a range of different Porsches sounds like an orgiastic experience for any car buff, for Porsche itself the PWRS is a way to let its cars sell themselves.
“It’s a good marketing and sales tool,” says Arnt Bayer, the chief executive of Sime Darby Auto Performance, the sole distributor for Porsche cars in Malaysia. “We believe heavily in demo cars and letting people drive to convince them about the brand.”
As with most dealers, Auto Performance is unable to carry a carmaker’s entire model range on its demo fleet.
Bayer lists the 911 Turbo S, the most powerful and expensive version of the 911, as an example of a car that’s impractical to keep for customer test drives. Registering one would be a big investment, he says. “It’s linked to the question of, ‘How many additional cars am I going to sell?’” says Bayer. “If I’m not going to sell that many more, the investment doesn’t make sense.”
But events like the PWRS can fill in the gaps. At Sepang this year there are two units of the 911 Turbo S. Drivers get to try one at a station that showcases its monstrous acceleration (0 to 100km/h takes just 2.9 seconds in one), and drive another one on a lap of the racing circuit.
Such driving exercises form the backbone of the event. Between the track drive, braking, slalom and even off-roading stations, participants can expect to drive at least a dozen different Porsches in a day, under the guidance of an instructor from Porsche.
In spite of the presence of factory drivers, however, the PWRS isn’t a driving course. While it’s possible to pick up tips from some ace drivers — our group was headed by Jukka Honkavuori, Finland’s 2014 Porsche GT3 Cup champion — the main point is to sample a Porsche buffet. “It’s really a good way to help customers make up their minds,” says Honkavuori.
Naturally, that means the best way to score an invitation to the PWRS is to be a potential customer who is in the middle of making up his mind. That entails building a relationship with your local Porsche dealer, and creating the impression that you’re at the “which” rather than “whether” stage of the buying process.
Singapore dealer Stuttgart Auto has 40 prospects attending the PWRS — 15 already own Porsches, but 25 are thinking of buying their first one. The participants have to pay to attend, which lets Stuttgart know they are serious.
A Porsche spokesperson declined to reveal how much a place at the PWRS costs, but says the event is “highly subsidised”.
Given that even the cheapest Porsche costs close to $300,000 with COE, however, an event that lets you sample as many of them as possible seems like a good investment. As much as it hurts to spend hundreds of thousands on a car, it would be even more painful to blow the money on the wrong one for you.