DETROIT - Porsche's sport-utility will be slightly larger than a Jeep Grand Cherokee and will debut in 2002.
Frederick Schwab, CEO of Porsche Cars North America Inc., acknowledged at the North American International Auto Show here that Porsche is a latecomer to the sport-utility segment, but said there still is room for a niche vehicle.
'We're going to be coming to this segment a bit late, but most niche makers enter the market when it is at a mature level,' Schwab said. 'It's just time to put some fun into SUVs.'
Porsche has not begun contacting potential customers about the sport-utility, he said.
The sport-utility will not be just an on-road vehicle, said Hans Riedel, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Porsche AG.
'I think the car definitely will be the epitome of what Porsche is all about,' Riedel said. 'So I think road-holding capabilities, handling, cornering, and the capabilities on-road will definitely exceed the off-road. But we'll make sure that we don't fall behind the competition in the off-road area either.'
The sport-utility, developed in partnership with Volkswagen AG, which also will get a version, will be assembled in Leipzig, Germany. Porsche has targeted annual sales of 20,000 units.
To prepare for the upcoming sport-utility, Porsche dealers in the United States are spending more than $250 million renovating and enlarging their dealerships, Schwab said.
Porsche unveiled its 2001 911 Turbo at the show on Jan 11. It is powered by a 420-hp, twin-turbo, 3.6-liter inline six-cylinder engine, and will be available in spring. Porsche has not announced a price.
Porsche this year will close its parts distribution center in Reno, Nev., and open two new centers in Atlanta and Ontario, Calif., Schwab said.
Of Porsche's top 20 markets in the United States, 10 are east of the Mississippi and five are west of the Rocky Mountains.
'We need to serve those markets by distributing parts to our dealers by truck, either the same day or the day after they are ordered,' Schwab said. The only possible way to do that is to distribute parts from locations on both coasts, he said.