70 years of Porsche in America
In the autumn of 1950, the first Porsche sports cars arrived stateside. It's been quite the journey since.
It was autumn 1950 when a fateful meeting between Professor Ferdinand Porsche and Austrian Max Hoffman led to the decision that a fledgling German car manufacturer would begin exporting its cars to America. Scroll forward 70 years and its clear that the bond that was created all those decades ago has been stronger than anyone could have imagined.
Ferry Porsche (left) and Max Hoffman in December 1951 on the terrace of Hoffman's apartment on Park Avenue, New York
The initial relationship between Max Hoffman and Professor Ferdinand Porsche went back to when the former was still working as a lawyer in Vienna, but the decisive contact was made years later by Max Troesch. A journalist by trade, Troesch had driven a Porsche 356 and was suitably impressed: “I am sure this car will make a name for itself.” When he traveled to America, he showed Hoffman photos of the car and encouraged him to connect with Porsche. The first two 1.1-litre 356 coupes were delivered to Hoffman in the autumn of 1950, and he met Ferdinand Porsche at the Paris Motor Show that same year.
In early conversations, Ferry Porsche said he would be happy to sell five cars a year in America, to which Hoffman famously replied: “If I can’t sell five a week, I’m not interested.” Eventually, they agreed on a U.S. import contract of 15 cars per year.
The showroom at Hoffman Motor Car Company on Park Avenue in New York City with Porsche 356 models on display in coupé, cabriolet and Speedster variants (1954/1955)
Despite Hoffman's ambitions, he'd not chosen an easy task. The 356 was more expensive and had a smaller engine than rivals, but with its blend of durability, track-bred agility and everyday usability, Hoffman knew he had something unique.
Porsche had no budget for a major advertising campaign, so it was up to Hoffman to establish the unknown brand to American customers. His marketing materials described the 356 as “One of the World’s Most Exciting Cars” with “a new conception in handling, roadholding, suspension and safety never known before”. The strategy gained traction, and by 1954, 11 cars per week were sold through Hoffman, equalling 30 per cent of the annual Porsche production. In 1965, the final year of the 356 model, the U.S. share of Porsche sales had risen to a massive 74.6 per cent.
On the other side of the country, another Austrian was also crucial to Porsche's success in the US. John von Neumann had opened his Competition Motors dealership in North Hollywood in 1948, and after a single test drive while visiting Hoffman in New York in 1951, he bought a Porsche 356 and took it back to California. An avid racer himself, Neumann played an important role in introducing the Porsche brand to the growing motorsport scene in the Golden State.
John von Neumann's Competition Motors dealership in Los Angeles, CA
The 356 Speedster was the key, especially with its lower starting price of just $2,995. The Speedster was inspired by the 356 America Roadster, which was, in turn, an example of Hoffman’s influence on the company since he had specifically asked Ferry Porsche for a lightweight, entry-level car. Neumann was also well-connected in Hollywood, and his list of celebrity customers, which included the actor James Dean, helped build a strong image as the cars were used both for weekend racing and weekday commuting.
With Porsche becoming more established in showrooms, motorsport and pop culture, the decades that followed would see a variety of changes for the brand’s presence in the U.S. From an organisational perspective, this began with the creation of the independent distribution network, The Porsche of America Corporation, in 1955. From 1969 the company formed part of the Porsche Audi division of Volkswagen of America, Inc. and finally, on 1 September, 1984, Porsche Cars North America was established in Reno, Nevada.
Approaching the new millennium, Porsche experienced setbacks and victories, both on the race track and in business. But two new models drew a fresh audience to Porsche: in the 1990s, it was the Boxster (first revealed as a concept as the 1993 Detroit Auto Show); in the 2000s, it was the turn of the Cayenne.
In the same period, PCNA moved its operations to Atlanta, Georgia, first moving there in 1998. On May 12, 2011, PCNA made the major announcement that it would build a new headquarters in Atlanta. This dedicated home for Porsche in America would not only serve as a centralised location for business, but as a brand embassy where visitors could experience the thrill of everything the marque has to offer. The Porsche Experience Centre (PEC) Atlanta opened its doors in May 2015, complete with a driver development track, fine dining restaurant, Heritage Gallery and much more.
Another PEC opened in Los Angeles in 2016, making America the first market with two PECs and giving Porsche an even stronger presence in California – a state that accounts for about a quarter of all U.S. sales. Combined, the two PECs represent an investment of $160 million – the largest Porsche has ever undertaken outside of Germany to date – but their value to the brand has been undeniable. So far, they have welcomed more than 450,000 visitors.
Moving towards the present day, 2019 was a pioneering year for Porsche in America in more than one sense. Sales soared to a record 61,568 vehicles and, importantly, they ushered in a new era. After the global premiere of the fully electric Taycan in September 2019, the very first deliveries in the world were to American customers in December of the same year. 70 years after Max Hoffman introduced the sports cars from Zuffenhausen to the U.S., a new chapter is being written.