Porsche revs U.S. sales with discounts for ‘Turtles’ image

Porsche SE, after almost two years of falling sales, resorted to discounted loans of its luxury sports cars and Cayenne SUVs to spur an 8.4 percent U.S. sales increase in September, bucking the industry’s 23 percent decline.

The company began offering 1.9 percent financing in the U.S. on Aug. 1 and ended it Sept. 30, Tony Fouladpour, a spokesman, said in an interview. The discount increased the value of its marketing promotions to $6,800, the most of any automaker, from about $400 a year earlier, then the industry’s second-lowest, according to Autodata Corp.

“Affluent customers were like all the other turtles that pulled their heads into their shells,” Jim Haynes, president of Porsche dealer Blue Grass Motorsport in Louisville, Kentucky. “Porsche used to think of itself above the car business. Even Porsche wasn’t.”

Porsche, based in Stuttgart, Germany, was one of 11 brands that increased U.S. sales last month, according to Autodata, based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Many were luxury makes that saw little benefit from the government’s $3 billion “cash for clunkers” program that ended in August, such as Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s Rolls Royce and BMW brands, Ford Motor Co.’s Volvo, and Fiat SpA’s Ferrari.

“It was a bit of a first for us,” Fouladpour, a spokesman, said in an interview. “No one can remember ever doing something like this. That’s what 16 or 17 months of a deep recession will do.” Porsche’s average monthly sales tumbled to 1,600 this year from 2,900 a month in 2007.

Porsche’s models start at about $47,000 for the Boxster roadster and go as high as $143,000 for the 911 Turbo Cabriolet, Fouladpour said.

Porsche fell 1.9 percent to 51.74 euros in Frankfurt trading. Its shares are down 5.6 percent this year. Volkswagen AG is taking over Porsche’s sports car business in a transaction scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.