DETROIT -- When Porsche AG pulled out of the Detroit auto show in 2007, the German company justified the move as dedicating resources to parts of the country where there were more customers.
But the company has changed its tune, launching its new hybrid at the 2011 show and creating a fourth dealership here.
And local dealers are following the company's lead, with two new showrooms under construction and two dealership renovations recently completed.
"We have a lot of confidence in Detroit," said Tony Fouladpour, business communications manager for Porsche. "There's a lot of optimism about Detroit and its future with Porsche."
Eitel Dahm agrees.
He's expanding his network from three dealerships to four with the opening of a new Porsche showroom in Eastpointe, Mich.
"After every rain, the sun shines," said Dahm, president of the Eitel Dahm Motor Group, which also sells Audi, BMW and Mini brands.
"I see the economy coming back, and now is the time to make an investment."
He has spent $2 million on the build-out of the new 12,000-square-foot dealership, expected to open in early April.
He's not alone in making a dealership investment.
The Suburban Collection-owned Porsche dealership in Farmington Hills, Mich., just finished a $1 million renovation, and Howard Cooper Porsche in Ann Arbor, Mich., built a new showroom at the end of 2009.
Fred Lavery Co. is building a new showroom on the site of a former Goodyear Tire Center in Birmingham, Mich. The Birmingham City Commission approved the project in February, and the existing building is being demolished.
Owner Fred Lavery did not return three phone messages from Crain's Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News, over three weeks.
The improvements are partially driven by image requirements from Porsche, dealers say, but it's also about confidence in the ability to sell the luxury cars.
"We felt there's a big enough community (of Porsche drivers) to warrant the investment we made," said George Davis, general manager of Howard Cooper Porsche in Ann Arbor, which created a new showroom for the brand in November 2009.
The recent interest is an about-face for Porsche after its pullout from the Detroit auto show.
After three years off from the show, the company made a splash in Detroit with the debut of the 918 RSR hybrid supercar.
Better times in Detroit
Local sales are growing, said Fouladpour, in line with increases in other parts of the country.
The company sold 158 Porsches in Southeast Michigan in 2010, compared with 119 in 2009, he said, although that's still down from past years.
With models ranging from $48,000 to $800,000, the cars compete in the class of import luxury cars. That vehicle class is especially competitive because so many people in the region have an allegiance or work relationship to domestic automakers, said Lee Ghesquiere, president of Mercedes-Benz of Novi.
"In most parts of the country, the luxury buyers cross over between imports and domestics," he said. "The luxury import segment in Detroit has always been smaller than the East or the West coast because of the strong hold of the domestic automakers."
In Detroit, Ghesquiere said, Mercedes is a much stronger presence in that sector than Porsche.
"They're playing catch-up," Ghesquiere said of Porsche.
The expanding Porsche dealers say there is room for growth -- enough growth to justify investing in their operations.
Porsche of Farmington Hills had a grand opening in January after spending $1 million on renovations that included a new showroom, said Bart DeBrow, general manager of the Suburban Collection.
He said that the six to 10 cars sold each month represent a 20 percent increase over 2010 and that 2010 represented a 20 percent increase over 2009.
Partially driving the increase is the new Panamera sedan, starting at $74,000. DeBrow said it sells well to Michigan drivers because it has all-wheel drive.
But the economy can't be overlooked as a factor, DeBrow said.
"The economy is coming back, the Big Three are doing better, the suppliers are doing better," he said. "People have more disposable income, and they're ready to buy a toy."