Tonight’s Super Bowl ad for Porsche—60 seconds of twisty roads, growling engines and epic driving—was pretty much the sort of sleek production you’d expect from a pricey German nameplate equipped to buy into America’s priciest air time. But while “The Chase,” which featured security guards in hot pursuit of a thief who’d stolen a new Taycan Turbo S from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, was good fun, it was also a monumental step for Porsche that, like many of its competitors, finds itself in a fast-changing market.
The Taycan marks Porsche’s entry into the electric-vehicle segment, and the fact that this first EV offering was the reason Porsche ended a 23-year absence from the Big Game gives some indication how vital and decisive the new Taycan is in Porsche’s 72-year history of building performance luxury cars.
“This is a momentous time for Porsche, entering into a new era of electrification,” Klaus Zellmer, CEO of Porsche America, told Adweek. “The moment is so important and spectacular that we turned to the biggest stage in America to show people a story about who we are, where we come from and where we are going.”
As tonight made clear, Porsche is going in the direction of battery power, a radical departure from the fast, powerful, petrol-drinking engines that made it legendary. While the $150,900 Taycan is Porsche’s sole EV for now, more are coming. By 2022, the company says, it will have sunk $6 billion into working on electromobility. At the Taycan’s global debut in September, Oliver Blume, chairman of Porsche AG’s executive board, made the company’s future directions clear when he said, “This day marks the start of a new era.”
EV sales take off like a shot
Why is Porsche going big with the electric message now? There are many reasons, but one that’s doubtless had a heady influence is the direction American car buyers are going. In short, after many years of customers regarding them skeptically, electric vehicles are suddenly selling considerably better than many analysts thought they would.
According to the Edison Electric Institute, EV sales spiked by 81% in 2018. As of March 31, U.S. roads had just north of 1 million EVs on them. Electric vehicles also have a bright future, according to a recent report from the Boston Consulting Group, which announced that “sales of electrified vehicles [are] growing even faster than expected. These cars will seize a third of the market by 2025 and 51% by 2030, surpassing sales of vehicles powered purely by internal combustion engines.”
The influence of Tesla
Another factor that likely plays into Porsche’s electrical dynamic is the performance of Tesla—not on the road, but in the showroom. Having debuted in 2012, Tesla has taken the lead in the EV category, with somewhere north of 381,000 vehicles sold. But while the Tesla brand itself proved the electric vehicles were viable transportation, it was Tesla’s Model S that proved something more specific: that there was a viable market for EVs in the luxury category. (The S’s sticker price starts around $75,000, but added options easily push it above $100,000.)
“For a long time, EVs were seen by people as [being] green—they weren’t necessarily associated with performance,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for automotive-information site Edmunds. “The Tesla Model S changed that. The perception now is that EVs can be really great performance, so it’s closer to the Porsche ethos.”
Carla Bailo, president and CEO of the Center for Automotive Research, said more and more luxury nameplates are realizing that consumer apprehensions about electric vehicles’ ability to hold their own in the performance category have largely abated—“it just took Tesla to smack everyone in the face,” Bailo said—so it’s only logical that Porsche is now advancing its Taycan as a contender.
The luxury pack is already charged up
It’s worth pointing out that Porsche closely follows a spate of luxury-performance nameplates that have recently rolled out electric vehicles. Audi’s e-tron all-electric SUV made its debut in 2019. Mercedes-Benz’s EQC is coming in 2021, and so is Volvo’s XC40 Recharge. Jaguar began shipping its i-Pace electric SUV toward the latter half of 2018 and, last summer, announced it would “accelerate electrification” by producing a range of new EVs at its plant in Castle Bromwich.