Once you're with Porsche, you’re married to the brand. You only have affairs with Italian cars.
The shop, housed within the Porsche Design lifestyle goods store, exists solely to serve the interests of Porsche Cars customers above and beyond the standard fare offered within Porsche showrooms.
Although the programme is not a secret, it maintains a low profile. Not unlike Bentley’s Mulliner coach-building outfit, much of Porsche Exclusive’s bespoke componentry is hand-crafted or stitched. But unlike at Bentley, all Porsche models come down the assembly line before the Exclusive process commences. The programme has brought wallet-busting add-ons to the company’s cars since 1986.
Chief arbiter of all matters performance and design is Sascha Glaeser, responsible for running the Beverly Hills operation. For nearly a decade, Glaeser worked at Porsche’s European delivery centre and on the brand’s customer consultation team in Germany. After three years, he presented a case to senior management to open a studio in Los Angeles, the brand’s largest market in the United States. Following several pilot projects in North America, the Beverly Hills location opened in mid-2011. (Glaeser’s work is complemented in New York by Melissa Witek.)
Using computer-aided design software fitted to a $7,000 laptop in concert with Porsche’s own online car configurator, clients can envision their Porsche prior to purchase and production. It is up to Glaeser to steer them in a direction that remains congruous with their own style and the brand’s image, although no options are truly off the table.
Like a Savile Row tailor, Glaeser works with customers to design tasteful packages that surpass those of dealers’ stock, while ensuring that the brand image is not sullied by an overzealous hand.
“I try to sensitively figure out what their limits are and how far they want to go,” Glaeser said. “Over 90% of customers like what we do, and bring it back to the dealer exactly as we’ve done.”
Popular requests include matching exterior paint and interior trim, based on color and dye samples, to specific colors representative of company logos, family crests and patriotic colours. A favourite memory of Glaeser’s is captured in a photograph of a customer’s green leather cowboy boots next to a color-matched vehicle.
“It may not be our taste”, Glaeser said, “but it fits their ideas.”
To begin the process of tailoring a Porsche model at the studio, which offers appointments on an invitation-only basis, Glaeser first performs an assessment of each customer’s needs, based on current and past vehicles, driving style and anticipated use.
“You can easily put an additional $60,000 in extras on the car,” Glaeser said. “We want to build the most personal car for the client, but it doesn’t have to be the whole nine yards.”
After a consultation of approximately 90 minutes to two hours’ duration, customer orders are processed through dealers, and the waiting game begins. Loyal owners, Glaeser said, are prepared to wait upward of nine months until their Porsche is ready.
“They like their Ferraris, but if it comes to daily driving, they always come back to the Porsches,” he said of the programme’s patrons. “Once you’re with Porsche, you’re married to the brand. You only have affairs with Italian cars.”
Glaeser stocks the full complement of Porsche accessories in several chests of drawers scattered about the studio, from steering wheels to leather-stitched air vents and audio speaker surrounds. Like Willy Wonka rummaging through his confectionary cooperative, Glaeser is able to rattle off a seemingly endless collection of swatches and samples, and he can name the precise location of every one. Beneath the studio, he keeps three “show cars”, specified to demonstrate to customers the range of possibilities, in the building’s subterranean parking structure.
Among the more incomprehensible requests that have reached Glaeser’s desk was for a GT2 Speedster, a convertible version of a hardcore, track-oriented 911. “Possible, but it doesn’t make sense”, he said. The most expensive standalone option available to customers is the Powerkit package for the 911 Carrera S, which boosts total horsepower from 400 to 430 and commands $17,800.
Capitalising on its strong position in southern California, Porsche intends to open the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles in 2013, where customers will have the opportunity to drive their cars on a purpose-built track, and benefit from driving instruction. Once completed, there are plans to move Porsche Exclusive to the campus, where the programme is likely to receive more exposure. Glaeser said the heightened awareness would not change his MO.
“It’s about 3% to 5% [of customers] that would want something special,” he said. “We want to keep it special.”