Porsche Cajun: A Smaller, Less Exclusive SUV That Will Tick Off Purists

Last Updated Nov 30, 2010 8:08 PM EST

Porsche (VLKAY.PK) has a nice problem to have: diehard fans love the brand and truly identify with Porsche. But that's also a big problem for Porsche (and other iconic brands with a fanatical following), because Porsche purists hate change, and change is inevitable.
Porsche provoked some of those purists again this week by confirming that the brand is going to build a small SUV, tentatively named the Porsche Cajun. The announcement signals that under the new owner Volkswagen, Porsche is going to continue down the path of stretching the brand and offer new lower-priced products in different niches, to a relatively less-exclusive crowd. The Porsche 911 starts at $77,800 suggested retail but runs as high as $245,000 for the Porsche 911 GT2 RS. That's basically a professional race car sold to civilians.
Prices won't be announced for the new Porsche Cajun until shortly before it's introduced, in at least a couple of years. Assuming it's significantly cheaper than the bigger Porsche Cayenne SUV -- which is sort of the whole idea -- it will probably cost roughly half what the cheapest Porsche 911 costs.
The two-seater Porsche 911 sports car is "The" Porsche, as far as the brand's biggest loyalists are concerned. Anything else is something like a betrayal of the go-fast, escape-the-family, indulge-yourself Porsche mystique. But over the years, Porsche has added a cheaper cars, like the Porsche Boxster convertible, which starts at $47,600 suggested retail; the Porsche Cayman hardtop ($51,400 and up); a bigger SUV, the Porsche Cayenne ($46,700 and up); and a four-door sedan, the Porsche Panamera (starting at $74,400).

Worse, from the point of view of Porsche diehards, prior experience suggests that the Porsche Cajun will be related to future Volkswagen model. There's plenty of precedent for that. The Porsche Cayenne is related to the VW Toureg and the Audi Q7. A Porsche spokesman said it was too early to speculate about any related models.
Adding insult to injury, Volkswagen AG effectively turned the tables on Porsche in 2009, when it took control of the brand. A year earlier, under then-Chairman and CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche had seized control of the much larger VW. But the Great Recession meant Porsche couldn't handle all the debt it took on to raid VW. Wiedeking was ousted last year. However, the Porsche Cajun shows that the concept of a bigger, less-exclusive Porsche lives on.
Commonality is just the way of the world these days. Every major manufacturer shares platforms across multiple products or even across multiple brands. That keeps down development costs and gets the best possible volume discounts from parts makers.

As long as it's done right, most customers don't care if a bunch of different brands use the same windshield wiper motor. It's OK if a sedan, a crossover and an SUV are basically different bodies on the same platform, as long as they don't look or behave too much the same.
Commonality of that sort was a major goal for last year's bankruptcy restructuring for Chrysler and General Motors (GM). All the other major players do it, too, including Ford (F), Toyota (TM), Nissan (NSANY.PK), Honda (HMC), Hyundai (HYMTF.PK) and Kia (KIMTF.PK). Purists may not like it but nobody, including Porsche, can ignore the trend.
Most Porsche customers don't seem troubled that Porsche has branched out by sharing components with VW. If Porsche fanatics had their way, Porsche would smaller and more exclusive, but it might also be too small to survive.

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Photo: Porsche