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[EYE] The world of dream cars

Head of Porsche Korea talks about automaker’s soul-searching after document-forging scandal, Mission E and Hyundai Motor

As with many other enthusiastic motorists around the world, a Porsche was a dream car for Michael Kirsch, managing director of the German luxury car’s subsidiary in South Korea.

Recalling Porsche posters hanging on the wall of his room in the pre-internet era, the head of Porsche Korea said the passion he has for this brand has been with him since, calling the brand an irreplaceable symbol of “a true racing car.”

The super luxury cars usually come with jaw-dropping prices, with entry models priced around 100 million won ($93,000). But that doesn’t mean that Porsche itself is unreachable.

“The brand has a very wide base of enthusiasts … some of them are rich, some of them save every dime to be able to race and then (they find) that Porsche is the best car because it’s reliable and fast,” Kirsch said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald at his Seoul office.

“Though it might not be reachable for everyone, but to buy one creates a dream.”

Michael Kirsch, managing director of Porsche Korea (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Michael Kirsch, managing director of Porsche Korea (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

And it is the carmaker’s job to make the brand “understandable and desirable” in this transformative time of vehicles going green and autonomous.

Porsche will maintain its status as one of the most desired cars in the world by keeping its tradition and pursuing innovation at the same time, Kirsch said.

“Mr. Porsche wanted to have a car that he couldn’t find, and so he started to build it himself,” he said, referring to Ferry Porsche, the son of the founder. The second-generation entrepreneur was an automobile engineer who created the 356 No. 1 Roadster, which was the first car sold by the company and the mother of the 911.

“And now it is the question of how we, as the company, can make his interpretation into the future. … And we do this with the Mission E.”

Mission E is simultaneously a grand plan and a great challenge for the German carmaker, which has focused on powerful combustion engines up until now. The project is aimed at turning a Porsche sports car purely electric, with its budget doubled to 6 billion euros ($7.4 billion) by 2022.

By 2025, a quarter of its global deliveries will be purely electric and hybrid vehicles, with the first battery-only Mission E sports car debuting in 2019, according to its CEO Oliver Blume at a press conference in Stuttgart last week.

Its future project, meanwhile, may have added significance for Korea, as the carmaker may forge a partnership with a Korean company. South Korean battery maker LG Chem is competing with Panasonic for batteries to be used for Porsche super cars.

“I’m pretty sure that Korea will play a big role in the hybridization and electrification of the world,” said Kirsch, adding that its head office is in talks with LG. He declined to give further details.

When asked about the possibility of Porsche losing the masculine appeal generated by its combustion engine, Kirsch said, “I’m not so concerned. Whatever it will be, it will be a true Porsche.”

With Porsche going through technological transformation, its Korean sales unit has undergone a tough year.

Its involvement in a document forging scandal as well as impact from Audi Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” led to its Seoul office going through a soul-searching process.

In 2016, the German carmaker was accused of manipulating certification documents, but voluntarily reported itself, admitting the error. The case was closed with Porsche paying a 1.7 billion won penalty.

“We decided to go forward, first investigate ourselves, and what we found we declared ourselves to the authority,” the 53-year-old managing director said.

“It was a phase of hard learning of reduced sales, of course, because they were not able to bring some cars here, and then came the diesel issue with the engines we get from Audi, so we were part of that, involuntarily.”

Moving forward, Porsche Korea saw record sales in January, driven by the popularity of the new flagship Panamera sports sedan.

In January, the German luxury carmaker sold a total 535 units here, which included 337 units of the new Panamera sedan, according to data from the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association.

Korea was the third-biggest market for Porsche’s Panamera 4, following China and the US in January, the company said.

Since its establishment in 2014, Porsche Korea, the importer and distributor of the carmaker, has sold a total of 13,206 units as of last year.

The company has expanded its dealership to Suwon and Changwon, and is seeking ways to increase customer interaction. The company plans on opening pop-up stores and temporary show rooms, while adding more digitalized elements this year as it celebrates the 70th anniversary of its first sports car.

In terms of numbers, the company is nearing the 20,000-unit mark, which looks to be attainable in a year or two. The Korean unit released the new Cayenne in the second half and the Panamera hybrid will be released this summer. But Kirsch stressed that he does not want to make any prediction.

“The year 2017 was a year of getting things right, the year 2018 is the year of consolidation. We don’t chase numbers, but profitable growth.”

Referring to a rare remark by Hyundai Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun, who called the Porsche 911 “near-perfection,” Kirsch said Porsche is not a perfect product but is one that keeps trying to be.

“Perfection? No, when we do something, then we already think how can we do it better next time, and this is the innovation culture and that’s why we win races. (I think) he was talking about what we intend to do,” he said, expressing his hope to personally meet Vice Chairman Chung.

Hyundai grew at an outstanding pace, and it seems to be on the right track in its globalization, he said.

“Now Hyundai, Kia are selling cars worldwide and I think this is something Korea can be very proud of, and that is an achievement that nobody was expecting,” he said.

“Hyundai is very strong and we are looking for more economic driving and new adventures like Stinger, which was the car of the year. They deserved it.”


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