A New Line of Business Serving Older Cars
By Robert Eberschlag, UCR Member; photographs of the Revive The Passion
911 restoration project, courtesy of Porsche AG
Perhaps, like me, you own an older Porsche and this pastwinter received a postcard from the manufacturer offering you free roadside assistance for your “classic” car? If so, perhaps you also shared my amazement.
Why would Porsche be offering free roadside assistance for old, high-mileage and therefore presumably more breakdownprone cars? It’s even more surprising when you consider that in many cases these cars were purchased second-hand from someone other than a Porsche dealer. My incredulity at Porsche’s apparent altruism did not prevent me from almost tripping over myself to sign-up for the program (only the first 1,500 registrants were eligible). A few weeks later I received in the mail some compelling brochures describing the roadside program, a sticker with the roadside assistance program phone number to go on my B-pillar, and a curious vintage Porsche postcard printed on steel instead of paper, kind of like a small license plate. All of this for free? Why?
In the context of some other things Porsche has been doing, the free roadside assistance program begins to makes sense. Porsche has developed a department called “Porsche Classic” dedicated to the repair, maintenance and restoration of vintage Porsches. Porsche Classic’s capabilities were recently displayed in the much publicized raffle of a beautifully restored 1973 911T. If Porsche Classic is to be a viable business, it must capture the attention of its target customers, and the free roadside assistance program appears to be both a way to build a customer database and to rekindle, or in some cases create, a direct relationship between classic Porsche owners and the dealer network.
Through e-mail correspondence with Porsche Canada, I learned from Thomas Ilner, Director of After Sales, that an estimated 10,000 vehicles registered in Canada meet the “Classic” designation. Porsche Canada put me in touch with Philipp Salm of Porsche Classic in Stuttgart for a telephone interview in May so I could learn more.
R. I own a 1986 911 and so I got the mailing concerning the free oadside assistance, and I eagerly signed up. However, it made me curious; why is Porsche offering free roadside assistance?
S. Porsche dealers had kind of lost track of their classic customers. Have you been in the Porsche dealer for servicing your car?
R. No, I’ve been going to an independent mechanic.
S. See, that’s where we are. When we were at the Porsche Parade in Savannah last year, we found out that most of the US customers—I don’t know about the Canadian customers, but I think it is similar—have no idea that they can get all the Porsche Classic parts at the local Porsche dealer. There are more than 35,000 parts available and we distribute them to Porsche dealers worldwide. So the Porsche Classic roadside assistance is one possibility, to first get to know the customers from our point of view and then the other side that the customers get to know the Porsche dealers again or the first time. Many customers don’t have a new car like a 997 or whatever, so we try to get them into the Porsche dealer.
R. I think there is a suspicion among some owners of older Porsches that the dealers are very familiar with servicing the new cars but might not be as familiar with the older cars. For example, the air-cooled cars: I often think the technicians at the dealers are so young, they were barely even born when these cars were on the road, should I trust them with it or not. That’s one of the reasons I go to an independent, because I know my mechanic has a long history with the air-cooled cars. Do the dealers receive special training in the older cars?
S. I don’t know about the Canadian dealers. I’m sure we do not offer it as a personal training in Stuttgart yet, but we are planning on it right now. But there is lots of technical literature and everything in our systems that they can find out and usually in most dealers there is at least one guy who knows better from the past.
R. Did Porsche Classic grow out of the “Special Wishes” department?
S. Special Wishes is a department doing individualization on the new cars and they are the sister department to Porsche Classic. Porsche Classic is split into two significant departments. The first side is supply with the original parts, and the other is the classic workshop, where we do maintenance, repair and of course total restoration projects, starting from the 356 speedsters up to the 993.
R. So when you do the full restoration, you do that in Stuttgart I guess? Are those primarily European customers? Or do people ship their cars from North America for that?
S. I would say it is both. Mainly for the maintenance and repair and minor damage, it is of course European customers. But for the 959 the customers are sending their cars worldwide because of our know-how on the techniques of the 959; because it is a really complicated car and with all the tools you need to do the servicing. At any time there are six, seven or eight 959s in the workshop. That’s almost like another museum. On the 356 speedsters it is starting up; we have a US 356 speedster now in our workshop. Before that we did the restoration mainly for Europeans.
R. I notice that the classic program gets cut off at a certain year, I think it is basically the end of the air-cooled era; the 986s, 996s and 997s are not eligible for the program. Is the plan that with every passing year you will bring in one more year of car? Are you looking back 20 years, or are you looking back by model type?
S. The cars we’re taking care of are all the models that ran out of production ten years ago, so the total model line, for example, the 993 ran out in 98, so in 2009 we took over at Porsche Classic because the parts suppliers of the cars told us they could not deliver parts 10 years after the end of production. This is where the classic specialist in the parts purchase department tries to keep up with the classic parts and that actually is a difficult thing to do because the original suppliers don’t have to supply us any more.
R. I guess one of your considerations is that a lot of old Porsches are still on the road and that’s why this program makes sense. If you are a manufacturer that had a very low survival rate for the cars, it wouldn’t be economic.
S. More than 70 percent of the old Porsches are still running. And of course it is getting more because we are producing higher numbers now, but these numbers are confirmed to the 993. The more customers that are coming into the dealerships and buying our original parts, the more parts we do, the better prices we can do.