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When Porsche AG Board Chairman Matthias Mueller first came to China in 1989, millions of bicycles dominated the road, and there were few cars.
"It was impossible at that time to imagine the huge changes that would take place in China over two decades," said Mueller, current chairman of the Board of Porsche AG.
China overtook the United States as the world's largest vehicle market in 2009, and it has been Porsche's second largest market globally, behind the US.
Though China's luxury car segment and the auto industry in general has remained stagnant due to a slowing economy and shifts in government policy, Porsche still reported strong sales momentum with 28 percent year on year growth.
Driven primarily by the outstanding market performance of both the Panamera and Cayenne models, Porsche further established its position as the leading luxury sports car manufacturer in the market, with more than 31,200 cars sold across the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao.
It marked the 11th consecutive year that China was the fastest-growing market for Porsche in the world.
"This year will be a tough year for Porsche not only because of the market slowdown, but also due to the fact that the Panamera models are being phased out," Mueller said.
Mueller said that the number of sales is not the company's highest focus because it is not a volume brand. The main goal in China is to participate in the development of the market, he said.
"We aim to have a similar sales volume in 2013 as in the year before," he said. "We are already off to a good start."
In the first quarter, Porsche sold 8,800 units in the local market.
"To continue building upon our spectacular successes from the past 11 years, we are doubling our current dealer network from 53 to 100 in two years, ensuring that Porsche customers across the country receive the hallmark personalized care that differentiates Porsche from competitors around the world," Mueller said. "So in 2016, China might be our biggest market in the world."
Mueller said the company plans to invest heavily in completing its product portfolio through the release of several new models.
At Auto Shanghai this year, the German luxury sports vehicle brand held the world debut of the Panamera series - the Panamera S E-Hybrid, the world's first luxury plug-in hybrid, which comes in three luxurious executive versions that feature a longer wheelbase - the Panamera S, Panamera 4S and Panamera Turbo.
"The Porsche Panamera is even more efficient, sporty, comfortable and elegant. The models will be available at Porsche centers across China in the third quarter of this year, and the prices will be announced in due course," Mueller said.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of its iconic 911, Porsche also brought the fifth generation of the 911 GT3 to China, which was unveiled at the Geneva International Motor Show last month.
"The most popular Porsche car is and will always be the 911," said Mueller.
The 911's engine, transmission, body and chassis have been completely re-imagined in this further development of the 911 GT3 concept, bringing about an impressive leap in performance.
With enhanced driving dynamics, the new 911 GT3 has all the properties of a top racing car. One technical highlight is that it features the first active rear-wheel steering in a production Porsche as well as optional full-LED headlights.
The latest 911 GT3 sets new performance records. It can accelerate from zero to 100 kilometers in 3.5 seconds. The top speed is 315 km/h in the seventh gear of the completely newly adapted transmission.
"It's a dream car, taking the pole position among the thoroughbred Porsche sports cars with naturally aspirated engines," said Mueller.
To enrich its SUV family, Mueller said that Porsche will debut the long-waited Macan, a small compact SUV and the junior Cayenne, at the Los Angles motor show this year.
"Chinese will see it at next year's Beijing Motor Show in April."
Macan, which is tailored toward the demands of drivers in China's crowded urban landscapes city driving, will definitely help boost Porsche's sales in China after it hits the market, he said.
Mueller also told China Daily that as a premium brand, Porsche will keep all of its research and development as well as all its production facilities in Germany to ensure the highest standard for the "best brand in the world".
"If the Chinese government, for example, closes the market for imported cars, we will negotiate with government whether we are going to give up the market or we will produce locally in the country," said Mueller.
"This is not only a question for the China market, but also a question for other markets too, like the US. But as long as the circumstances are similar to the current situation, we will not produce cars here in China but only in Germany."
Porsche is still pursuing its role as a sports car pioneer in China on both the road and the race course, said Mueller.
Founded by Ferdinand Porsche in Stuttgart in 1931 and further developed into a sports car manufacturer by Ferry Porsche in 1948, Porsche has been known as one of the most prestigious automobile brands in the world for decades.
Under the guiding credo of "Porsche Intelligent Performance", Porsche endeavors to provide a new generation of sports cars that prove performance and efficiency are not mutually exclusive.
Since 2001, Porsche China has been importing a full range of iconic Porsche sports cars imbued with the sporting spirit of the brand, including the legendary 911 series, the renowned Boxster and Cayman mid-engine sports cars, the superb Cayenne premium SUV, and the exceptional four-door Panamera Gran Turismo.
"True. We are a sports car manufacturer. But in my opinion, Panemara and Cayenne are also sports cars, as they are always the most sporty models in their segments," said Mueller.
Though Meuller agreed that the sports car culture is far from mature in China at the current stage, Porsche "will be patient" and ready to provide a different driving experience to Chinese customers. "It takes time. Chinese people need to learn to drive fast and safe first," said Mueller.
To further promote motor sports in China, Porsche is building an exclusive customer test site for enthusiasts at a legendary location. The first Porsche Driving Experience Center of Asia is being constructed next to the Shanghai International Circuit.
The experience center, which covers a land area of 100,000 square meters and features a test track, slalom courses, off-road parcours and training rooms, is exclusively reserved for Porsche customers and fans.
After its completion, which is scheduled for the beginning of 2014, the Porsche Driving Experience Center in Shanghai will be the third customer test track in the world together with ones in Leipzig, Germany and Silverstone, England.
"This will give sports car customers in China a unique opportunity to intensively experience the fascination and dynamic performance of our vehicles," said Mueller.
(China Daily 04/25/2013 page12)