November 15 marked a day that So Cal-based auto enthusiasts had been waiting for with bated breath: the arrival of the Porsche Experience Center in Carson—the fifth of its kind for the brand and only its second in North America. The 53-acre facility offers off-road and on-road experiences, a business center and the appropriately-named luxurious eatery Restaurant 917 (after one of the brand’s most successful racing vehicles). We sat down with Porsche North America CEO and President Klaus Zellmer to discuss the new facility and why it’s designed to thrill racing fans.
Why did you choose Los Angeles as the site of your second U.S. Experience Center?
Porsche history has been very closely connected to California since the ’40s and ’50s. The 356 [model], the predecessor of the 911, was really appreciated in this part of the world, and people were passionate about driving this kind of car on the road, but also on the racetrack. California is also fashionable and cool [and…] from a market perspective within the U.S., 23 percent of all Porsches sold per year are sold here in California.
What is Porsche’s philosophy and how does it apply to the center?
Despite all the digital transformations that are taking place, and the heavy focus on virtual reality that is occurring within the industry, we believe in the real experience. We believe in something visceral. If you want to understand the brand, you need to get in the car.
What unique experiences will the center offer?
We have an on-road private development track with various modules, such as a kick-plate […] where your task as a driver is to catch the car before it swings all the way around, as well as a track with a wetted and polished surface that simulates this type of ice or snow driving experience. It’s all about feeling in control, no matter what the road conditions are. It’s fun, but it is also something that teaches you to [drive correctly] and to test the limits of your car when you’re in similar situations on public roads. We have off-road experiences as well.
Photo Credit: Porsche Cars North America Inc.
What is personally your favorite aspect of the center?
My personal favorite is the off-road experience. I often find that, when taking people in the off-road terrain with our SUVs, you have to push them to do certain things; it’s a lot more surprising [to see how the SUVs perform]
as opposed to what you know you can do with a 911, a 718 Cayman or 718 Boxster. Also, there’s practically no limit to what we can do here. It’s a bit like a playground for grown-ups that share a love for technology, design
and innovation—true gearheads.
What Porsche suits L.A. the best and where would you ideally drive it?
The 911 Carrera Cabriolet. I would drive it from L.A. all the way to San Francisco. I’ve actually done that, and I will never forget it—despite the fact that it was over 25 years ago.
What separates Porsche from its competitors, in your opinion?
When we asked our customers for their buying motives, they often cited the brand itself as their primary reason for purchasing. People say, “I have always dreamed about driving a Porsche since I was a kid” and “I said I was
going to work hard […] to be able to one day afford a car like that.” That aspirational part of our brand is something that I find rather unique.