Thursday, July 3, 2014
Selling the Porsche 918 with leather, driver coaching and other special wishes
Last week, Porsche released the greatest car ever made by God or Stuttgart, the 918 Spyder, into the wild. The Spyder produces nearly 900 hp, 286 of them from electric motors paired to the finest V-8 engine on earth.
It maxes out at a mild 217 mph and is the only production car with factory-fitted tires to ever run the Northern Loop of the Nurburgring in less than seven minutes.
Also, it gets 67 miles to the gallon, a number that even the world hypermiling champion, driving a Prius C around a grocery-store parking lot, couldn’t achieve. The car has universally and rightly been proclaimed as a miracle of engineering, and maybe the savior of an entire industry.
Also, it is a convertible. You’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to sell.
But it costs $865,000. And they're building 918 of them, unlike the more exclusive LaFerrari (499) and McLaren P1 (375).
You can’t exactly slap a zero-percent financing sticker on it and put up TV ads for a 4th of July sale. Getting the Spyder in the hands of people who both can afford it and appreciate its majesty has been a multi-year process.
Porsche has done everything it can, short of performing the Dance Of The Seven Veils, to seduce its potential buyers.
Every one of those 918 will be pressed to order and for those who signed up early, the wait is over. “Ralph Lauren got his car,” someone from Porsche told me. “Penske got his car. Seinfeld got his car.”
But there are still plenty available. In order to move their stock of The Greatest Car Ever Told, Porsche has been sending invitations out to people in its VIP program, potential customers who are either already high-end Porsche owners or owners of other supercars. This program is called “Porsche Exclusive,” though it used to be called “Special Wishes.” The name got changed, for obvious reasons.If wishes were Porsches, rich people would ride.
Those are the kinds of customers who travel to Germany to consult on specs, or go to a dedicated Porsche design office in Beverly Hills. If they pay, they get whatever they want. One buyer is waiting until car number 666 rolls off the bespoke production line. I’m hoping its Ozzy Osbourne, though no names were revealed. (The top exhaust pipes would make terrific devil horns).
Of late, exclusive customers have been getting access to track days at five locations around the country, which includes a walkaround of a pre-production Spyder, plugged into a wall unit like an ordinary Chevy Volt, some light catering, a couple of runs around the track in a quotidian 911 Turbo, and, finally, a few laps in the Spyder itself.
The appointments are spaced out 45 minutes apart, to give the illusion of exclusivity. Everyone is allowed to bring one guest.
Porsche set up shop earlier this month for a couple of days at the Circuit Of The Americas in Austin.
There, I met David Donohue, former champion of the GT2 class at the 24 Hours Of Le Mans. As of now, he’s also Porsche’s in-house 918 Spyder consultant, available at all times to any owner who needs his help and advice. “When these customers call,” he said, “I can’t say, ‘sorry, I’m on a race weekend.’”
Donohue has a long history working with Porsche, but he says he was drawn to the Spyder not only because of its performance, but also because of the technological advances it represents.
The fact that it’s the fastest consumer car in existence, and also the most fuel-efficient hybrid, represents good news for car lovers who are feeling buffeted by the winds of climate change.
“CAFE regulations and environmentalists are making us drive neutered cars,” Donohue told me. “And this is how Porsche responds.” It is sweet revenge.
I spent several hours at COTA, watching VIPs stagger around in shock after driving the Spyder, and did my own share of staggering after taking my laps. Shelby on a Popsicle stick, what a car. But that didn’t mean they were flying off the virtual lot.
Most everyone else seemed exist in “I have to think about it” mode. They were wealthy, but not Jay Leno wealthy. One guy sat a table, looking through colored leather samples as desultorily as though he were picking out a new couch.
But I did meet one bona fide 918 Spyder owner. Dean Rogers, retired from the recording-studio business, had come down to Austin from Santa Fe, N.M., along with his garage manager, who helps maintain his dozen cars of various vintages.
Rogers put down his deposit three and a half years ago, the day Porsche announced the Spyder on Dec. 3, 2010. “What they were claiming at the time seemed totally impossible,” he said. “It was a leap of faith. No one had ever done it before. But if you’re gonna have faith in a car company, have faith in Porsche.”
Rogers went to Stuttgart to see early models. The exhaust originally came out the side. (Now it comes out of the rear, through twin pipes.) It had tiny cameras instead of side mirrors. The steering wheel came off. It all seemed kind of weird.
“But I stayed focused on it,” he told me. “I was offered a P1 by McLaren, and I turned it down. I was offered a (Bugatti) Veyron, turned it down. The Spyder ended up being even cooler than the concept. I feel very fortunate to be able to drive this car, to even have the opportunity. It’s like a miracle.”
And that was before he’d taken his spin around the world’s most state-of-the-art racetrack. When he got out of the car, Rogers was almost quaking with excitement.
“The power was unbelievable,” he said. “I did the back straight in race mode. As far as traction and grip, it’s unlike anything else I’ve driven. It feels like I’m ten years in the future. At least ten. Everyone said Porsche couldn’t do it. But they did it. They really did it.”
Rogers said he plans to drive the Spyder in the Dust Bowl Rally, an exclusive drive of 30 cars, from Austin to Chicago in August. He’ll have some time to noodle around at home in it before then. Porsche was going to drop off his Spyder last week. His special wishes have come true.