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Coronavirus pushes Porsche to lean on digital experiences

As the automaker opens back up, it's making sure customers have access, no matter their level of comfort.

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Over the last 10 years, Porsche's annual sales have just about tripled, from a hair under 20,000 sales per year to just over 60,000. And then the coronaviruscame through, slapping the automotive landscape with a harsher reality as buyers of all socioeconomic strata cooled on car purchases. Through the first two quarters of 2020, Porsche has sold just 24,186 cars. But every problem brings with it an opportunity, and Porsche believes its digitalization strategy will help it recover quickly.

Speaking at a roundtable with the media, Porsche Cars North America CEO Klaus Zellmer was optimistic not only with regards to the company's future sales recovery, and the numbers are reflecting that the comeback is already starting -- or, at least, it shows that buyers are getting eager to return. In March, the year-over-year difference between monthly sales figures began returning to normal, nearly reaching parity in June. Porsche's website traffic, whether it's to the automaker or its dealers, is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels, and its online car configurator has seen a 33% increase in use since April.

For those who feel comfortable buying a car the old-fashioned way, Porsche's working with its dealer network to ensure a little extra safety, whether that means coming to pick up a vehicle for service or delivering a fresh-off-the-truck model straight to a new owner's house. The Porsche Experience Centers in Atlanta and Los Angeles have been open since May 19 and June 5, respectively, and they're once again offering driving experiences, albeit with some additional safety precautions.

But brick-and-mortar experiences are only half the battle. Porsche's been on a big digitalization bent for the last couple years, expanding the number of ways in which folks can interact with the automaker and get brought into the ownership fold. Traditional digital retail is part of that, allowing folks to move most of the legwork online, and that started as a pilot program in late 2019. But used cars are important, too, which is why Porsche created a one-stop online shop to check a nationwide used-Porsche inventory.

Nearly half of Porsche's dealers offer live online consultations, too, allowing consumers to use platforms like FaceTime to learn more about the automaker's vehicles. Once they're brought into the fold, there's a wealth of driver information on offer through Porsche's owner web portal, including a "Track Your Dream" app that lets buyers see where their car is in the production process, whether it's in the factory or on a boat heading Stateside.

Thus far, these features have been relegated to the traditional car-buying experience. The Porsche Drive subscription service, formerly known as Porsche Passport, continues to offer Porschephiles a unique way to drive their favorite cars. Running in five cities, Porsche claims 80% of Drive users are new to the brand with an average age some eight years younger than the usual buyer demographic. More than a third enroll for at least four months, too, proving the idea has legs. Porsche said that continued successes in Atlanta, Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix and Toronto will permit the company to expand Drive's footprint even further.

There's still a long road ahead of everyone. Coronavirus is still here, and many folks are more than content to continue waiting it out in the safety of their own homes. Yet, the need to maintain and replace vehicles hasn't changed, so it's up to automakers to figure out how to bridge that gap, and Porsche is helping lead the charge with a variety of digital services that give buyers the tools they need to get things done at a safe distance.

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