PORSCHE HAS a clever plan to run off 1,500 copies of the Carrera GT at a base selling price of E390,000.
Revenue from the limited-edition supercar will equal about 15 percent of Porsche's annual sales. That adds up to a lot of Boxsters. Profits from the Carrera GT should represent an even bigger share of Porsche's overall net income.
In fact, as an enterprise this is probably bigger and more profitable than either BMW's Rolls-Royce subsidiary or DaimlerChrysler's Maybach venture. If Porsche keeps this up even Ferrari may feel threatened.
The high-performance sports car debuted as a concept at the September 2000 Paris auto show. The 612hp production version Carrera GT was shown in Geneva this month, powered by a 5.7-liter V-10 engine developed for Le Mans in 2000, only to be shelved when race regulations changed.
This fastest-ever Porsche travels from zero to 200kph in 9.9 seconds and reaches a top speed of 330kph, or 205mph.
The Carrera GT is the spiritual successor to Porsche's 959, that 1980s icon that was more of a rolling test bed and brand booster than a business. But leave it to Porsche Chairman Wendelin Wiedeking to figure a way to turn a supercar into a super profit center.
This is no simple 911 derivative. Development of the Carrera GT led to several patents, including the carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic monocoque and subframe and the ceramic clutch. To make the project economically viable Porsche decided it needed to build and sell 1,000 cars.
No problem. Sales and marketing director Hans Riedel says Porsche quickly received deposits from buyers to tool up for 1,000. In fact, interest was so strong that the company decided to build the extra 500.
At auto shows, only hot-blooded enthusiasts pay much attention to limited-run specials - unless the car is a Ferrari. The low-slung Carrera GT was a confection in Geneva. But for a company the size of Porsche this is a huge deal.
Of course, this isn't for every car company. Porsche, it turns out, has more brand elasticity than anyone imagined. There are plenty of Porsche owners both loyal and wealthy enough to pay Rolls-style prices.
Revenue from this little side business will be comparable to 18 months of Rolls-Royce Phantom proceeds. And it is almost certainly more profitable. Porsche's investment in the Carrera GT must be a fraction of what BMW has poured into the Rolls project or DaimlerChrysler has put into Maybach.
No new factory was needed. The Carrera GT is built in the same Leipzig plant that produces the Cayenne. Neither did Porsche need to create a whole new organization and reconfigure the sales network.
True, production of the 1,500 Carrera GT's will stretch over more than two years. Then the project will be over. But Wiedeking could roll out one limited-edition supercar after another - Porsche's existing owner base providing a ready supply of eager buyers.
This may be one reason why Wiedeking seems so cool to the idea of leaving Porsche and trying his luck at a much larger automaker. He's still discovering new ways to pull profit out of the world's last small, independent car company.
"If you are a big player you can't do this kind of business," said Wiedeking. "You need special knowledge, special tooling and flexibility."
Wiedeking talks about a fourth Porsche product line and this may be it - a series of ultra-fast technology showcases that bring glory to the brand and vast profits to the business.
If Mercedes-Benz and BMW and even Volkswagen can zoom up market, why not Porsche?
E-mail Richard Johnson at [email protected]