LOS ANGELES -- It’s 53 acres of dirt today, but in little more than a year, the Porsche Experience Center here at the collision of the 405 and 110 freeways will have Carreras, Caymans and Cayennes tearing around a custom-built test track made for Porsche owners and prospects.
The Los Angeles center will be the fourth experiential marketing site Porsche has constructed. The others are in Atlanta; Silverstone, England; and Leipzig, Germany. Another is being built near Beijing for the Chinese market. But the Los Angeles center will be the largest, said Detlev von Platen, CEO of Porsche Cars North America.
The location makes demographic sense, von Platen said. The California market accounts for 25 percent of Porsche Cars North America sales -- roughly 10,000 vehicles a year, which is more than the U.K. and French markets combined. More than 400,000 vehicles per day will pass the center.
The center is designed to supplement the dealership experience, particularly in Los Angeles, where performance test-driving situations are difficult. Dealers are expected to send customers to the center for test drives, but no retail activities will be conducted.
“It will be a high-performance training center, where enthusiasts can experience and drive the car in all the conditions you normally couldn’t get in the real world,” von Platen said in an interview with journalists. “There will be a variety of tracks and conditions. It may not have big speeds, but it will be as much fun as 200 miles an hour on the highway.”
In addition to a 0.4-mile straightaway, the modular circuit can be configured between a half mile and two miles of low-friction track, designed more to test driver skill than flat-out speed.
“Not only is it fun, but it’s an educational piece. Each module has 30 learning lessons,” said James Taylor, the center’s project leader.
The expected customer throughput per day on the road courses is about 100 drivers, but specifically suited events can handle up to 500 people in a day. Porsche has invested about $29 million in the center.
Porsche executives waffled regarding the admission cost to access the circuit. On weekends, people with appointments will be able to drive their own cars on certain parts of the circuit, and compare that performance with that of a Porsche. That service is expected to cost around $250.
However, for a customer test drive of a specific Porsche vehicle arranged by a local dealership, the cost may be waived. The center will employ about 150 people when opened.
The centers are designed to be “an immersive experience,” said Andre Oosthuizen, Porsche vice president of marketing.
“Porsche wanted to differentiate itself with a unique selling proposition. These sites will become landmarks, a one-stop brand platform for experiential marketing,” Oosthuizen said.
The center also will be the new headquarters of Porsche Motorsport North America, previously down the road in Santa Ana, said Jens Walther, CEO of Porsche Motorsport.
The center will perform r&d and engine-rebuild work for Porsche’s U.S. racing activities at the professional and club levels. For vintage racers, the center will do restoration work on classic Porsche racing machines.
In addition to the test track and motorsports center, the site will have a lounge-style business center where corporations can conduct private meetings. The main building will have an 85-seat catered cafe.
For professional drivers and athletes, the center will have a fitness center that tests hand-eye coordination, driving posture, stress and fatigue. Porsche’s center in England is used by 240 professional drivers, and Porsche expects a similar take rate here with American pro drivers.
A cool touch is a “simulator center,” where drivers can race any Porsche on any race track against several of their friends or peers, Taylor said. Want to race the new 918 Spyder at Monza, circa 1950? You got it.
Porsche also hopes to use the center to help teach young drivers better car-control skills.