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Panamera ‘will grow on you’

Beating boredom: Porsche says Panamera will appeal to drivers bored with other premium sedans.

Porsche says time will turn Panamera design critics around

22 Jun 2009


PORSCHE is confident that critics who slam the styling of its new Panamera sedan will eventually come around.

Porsche board member and vice president of sales and marketing, Klaus Berning, said the design was no hindrance to his plans for Porsche to sell at least 20,000 Panameras a year around the globe, including 200 in Australia.

He said the $270,200-plus Porsche was aimed at people who were bored with buying into the Mercedes-Benz S-class/BMW 7 Series/Audi A8 axis, but customers of Maserati and Aston Martin were also in Porsche’s crosshairs.

“The Panamera was clinic-ed in China, the United States and Germany, and there was no problem,” Mr Berning said.

“It’s what people in that segment want – finally something that is exciting to drive, finally something that is different.

“Because whatever you do after your third 7 Series, you tend to be a little bit bored. It is the same after your third S-class." Mr Berning said the Porsche was set to distinguish itself to luxury sedan buyers who prefer driving.

“If you are the type of guy who likes to use the chauffer all of the time, I’m sure you are not going to buy the Panamera. But if you are 40 to 50 per cent driven, and the rest you drive yourself, then I think we have your car.”

25 center imageLeft: Porsche head of design Michael Mauer.

Mr Berning, a BMW sales veteran of 22 years before moving from Munich to Stuttgart in 2006, admitted that he was shocked after seeing early Panamera prototypes.

“I must say that in the first two years I thought that (the Porsche design requirements of 911-style coupe silhouette, low bonnet and wide rear haunches) seemed to be too restrictive. But then the solution is what you see today. It doesn’t make life easier, but if it was easy then everybody would do it.

“Believe me, a recognisable face in the crowd is the most important thing for a car. We tend to say horsepower and things like this (are more important), but if I ask my customers what is the number-one buying factor it is design by far. And then comes drivability and stuff like that.

“The car grows on you. The more you see it, the more you will change your mind.” Michael Mauer, Porsche’s head of design and the person behind the Panamera’s appearance, agrees, adding that having an impact and arousing emotional responses was one of his goals.

“Of course I listen to criticism … because it’s like my baby,” he said.

“But I really do prefer to have (the situation) of 50 per cent of people really loving the car and the other 50 per cent having a problem with it, because the people with the problem, well, at least with half of them – after a certain time – the design will grow on them.

“And the remaining 25 per cent of people who still don’t like it – that’s OK, because we have a strong and distinctive product, and I think it doesn’t help if you have a design that is everybody’s darling but doesn’t ever get the passion going.” Mr Mauer describes the formation of the Panamera’s rear end as the most challenging task, since Porsche has no experience or heritage from which his designers could draw inspiration.

The design dictum, directed by CEO Dr Wendelin Wiedeking, called for a recognisably 911-related sedan with coupe-ish lines, but with enough headroom for two adults in the rear seat, sufficient space for their luggage, in a package that had to stay within a five metres in length.

“So you can see this was, all in all, the most challenging part of the car,” Mr Mauer said.

Nevertheless, the 911-signature wide hipped stance, combined with the broad shoulder line that connects both ends of the car, stand out as his favourite styling elements.

Mr Mauer said the arch of the rear door’s day light opening (window line) relative to the angle of the roofline gave the impression of a greater fastback shape than there really was to achieve a sleeker-than-sedan silhouette without sacrificing interior space dimensions.

“The hope is that your eye is caught by the chromed door line, to fool you into seeing a coupe,” Mr Mauer said, adding that the triangular quarter light allowed for a lower window line to alleviate feelings of claustrophobia inside the car.

Moving to the pointy end of the Panamera, the nose cone and extractor vents just aft of the front wheelarches were deliberately created to evoke the Carrera GT supercar the company produced from 2004 to 2006.

“We wanted to make sure that this is perceived as a real sportscar, in order to position this car without a doubt as the best sportscar in its (luxury sedan) segment,” Mr Mauer said.

But the Porsche designer is adamant that his team did not merely create a stretched 911.

“You can do something that reminds you of the Porsche brand, but the Panamera has its own identity as well,” he said.

Still, to inspire the process, Mr Mauer did have a series of old cars as reference points in the styling studio, including the Carrera GT, stillborn 989 four-door coupe of the late 1980s/early 1990s, and a 928, while in the back of his mind were childhood favourites such as the Jaguar E-Type, Lancia Stratos and Citroen DS.

“My objective was to do an extremely good looking car that attracts customers,” he said.

Read more:

First drive: Panamera worth the wait

Panamera specs revealed

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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