BBA lunch 1 Klaus Zellmer

Klaus Zellmer, president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America Inc., speaks at the Buckhead Business Association’s 2018 annual luncheon Jan. 25 at the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead.

The vroom of the engines you hear as Porsche cars zip by you on the highway could be replaced by a distinctively different sound in the future. The Stuttgart, Germany-based luxury automobile company is putting heavier focus on electric cars.

“As much as we like to hear our (combustible, gas-powered) engines roar, we’re very much engaged in actively trying to upgrade our fleet,” said Klaus Zellmer, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Porsche Cars North America Inc.

Zellmer, a Buckhead resident, spoke on that topic and more Jan. 25 at the Buckhead Business Association’s annual luncheon at the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead. Porsche, which has had hybrid vehicles since 2010 with its Cayenne model, will launch its first fully electric sports car, the Mission E, in 2019.

“For us it is not about being actually the first electric car, because there are great cars out there already,” Zellmer said. “For us it’s about presenting an electric sports car that has the driver dynamics … that will be everything you would expect from Porsche. 600 (horsepower), 0 to 60 (mph) in under 3.5 seconds, a range of 310 miles, and the most important thing: charging time of 15 minutes or less (for another 250 miles) … using 800-volt (battery) charging technology. This is something no one else can offer at this time. Initially we expect to sell about 20,000 vehicles per year. Rest assured it will be rolling like a sports car from Porsche.”

Zellmer, who has worked for Porsche since 1997, was named to his current role in 2015.

“As president, Zellmer oversees the imports and distribution of Porsche cars through the retail operations of approximately 189 U.S. dealers and four ports of entry for the United States. He’s also responsible for sales support, marketing, parts distribution and other functions, including sales and service training,” said David Coxon, the association’s 2016 president, who introduced Zellmer.

In his speech Zellmer welcomed to Atlanta French automobile maker Peugeot, which two days earlier announced plans to establish its new North American headquarters in the city starting in February with a temporary location in Midtown. It has not yet announced where its permanent location will be.

Peugeot joins Porsche and Mercedes-Benz as luxury European auto companies that have U.S. headquarters in metro Atlanta. Mercedes-Benz is moving its USA operations from Montvale, New Jersey, to Sandy Springs. It already has a temporary office in Dunwoody while its new Sandy Springs facility, which is expected to open in May, is being built.

Porsche had its North American headquarters in Sandy Springs until 2011, when it moved to Atlanta on the site of the former Ford plant near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, a location that gave it more space. In 2015 the company opened the first of two Porsche Experience Centers in the U.S. on its Atlanta site, and the second one opened the following year in Los Angeles.

At each center, for a fee visitors can spend 90 minutes driving a car of your choosing on its track, test-drive a vehicle in its simulator or just tour the facility, which also has a restaurant. They have had 160,000 visitors at both locations overall, and Porsche’s Atlanta center had 46,000 visitors last year and is expecting over 50,000 in 2018, Zellmer said. He wouldn’t identify them, but some of its Atlanta center customers have included celebrities.

“We see people of all ages: kids, adults, rock stars and actors. Even Hollywood discovered us,” he said. “Soon after we opened our center in Atlanta, people (flocked to it). Take a look when you watch ‘Captain America: Civil War’ or ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming.’ You’ll see actors who have driven our cars at our center.”

Another program that has also been a hit is Porsche Passport, where, for a monthly fee of $2,000 or $3,000, depending on the package, one can rent any Porsche available and drive an unlimited number of miles. Zellmer said the program, which started last year and requires only a one-month commitment, has already reached its goal of signing up 50 individuals and has a waiting list.

“Something we all have to learn and get used to is that especially with millennials and younger people, the commitment to buy a car or lease a car for three years is hard (to make). They don’t want to commit to (something) any more than a month,” he said, drawing laughter from crowd. “The majority of members are new to the program. Seventy-eight percent of people who signed up have never owned a Porsche before.”

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