LOS ANGELES - The sport-utility may be the chosen vehicle of an increasing number of buyers in the USA. But Richard Ford wants you to know that the sports car world is growing, too.
Ford is chief operating officer of Porsche Cars North America Inc., so he has an interest in pointing out trends like this: The sporty class, which includes Porsche, accounted for 108,235 US sales last year - up 13.4 percent from 1997. And analysts, he notes, predict the segment will hit 140,000 in the next year or so.
Ford calls those estimates conservative.
'Sports cars are far from dead,' he said in an interview. 'Baby boomers (the postwar generation) are in the empty-nest stage, in their peak earning years, and will inherit $8 trillion during the next few years. They will buy things that make them feel good.'
Porsche has had a dramatic turnaround in the USA. In 1993, it sold just 3,728 cars there. Last year, that total jumped to 17,239. This year, sales through May were up 35.9 percent over 1998 levels.
Who is buying Porsches? By Ford's count, it's not just dedicated Porsche drivers. Fans who have long admired the marque from afar are buying their first Porsches, too.
And as they shop, they will be tempted by a range of new entries, such as the Honda S2000, Nissan Z, Toyota MR Spyder and Audi TT. Ford says he welcomes them.
'The more competition there is, and attention drawn to the segment, the better it is for little Porsche,' Ford said. 'We can't market sports cars single-handed.'
Porsche won't be standing still. This autumn, it will add a more powerful version of its 'entry-level car,' the Boxster. Although the standard Boxster fetches premium prices and is a 'sold-out' item at US dealerships, Porsche feels a higher-performance version is necessary.
The Boxster S will have a 3.2-liter flat-six engine that will generate 252hp (48 more than the standard Boxster) and 225 pounds-feet of torque (44 more than the standard). The engine management system is pulled from the 911 Carrera 4, and a six-speed manual transmission is standard.
As a result, the 0-100kph acceleration of the Boxster S is under six seconds. Its top speed is 260kph.
The Boxster S will have a sport-tuned chassis and a redesigned suspension with a stiffer spring and vibration damper system.
On the styling side, the Boxster S will have standard 430mm alloy wheels, twin-pipe exhaust, a central air inlet and titanium-colored trim on the front air inlets and a titanium-colored Boxster S logo on the deck lid.
Different interior features include a three-spoke leather steering wheel, slightly different instrumentation, and a cloth headliner that is said to absorb more wind noise.
Pricing and volume projections have not been disclosed. Last year, 9,678 standard Boxsters were sold in the USA.