Slow Sales And Flat-Six 718s Prove Buyers Expect More From Porsche

With US sales figures drooping since being chopped to four cylinders, the Boxster and Cayman are in a precarious position, and the only possible explanation is that Porsche got it wrong
Slow Sales And Flat-Six 718s Prove Buyers Expect More From Porsche

When you think of Porsche, you think of driving dynamics, sublimely set-up driver’s cars and nape-prickling noise. Cars that give you the James May fizz. Take away one of those attributes and you risk the overall house of cards, so delicately built over decades, tumbling like a cheese wheel down a Gloucestershire hillside.

That’s effectively what Porsche did when it developed the then-new 718 Boxster and Cayman. Doing away with the howling but not especially low-emission six-cylinder engines and replacing them with two turbocharged flat-fours, just 2.0 and 2.5 litres respectively, was a huge gamble for a brand built on a certain kind of performance car. It hasn’t paid off.

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Right from the earliest press drives it was clear something was out of line. The engines were technically excellent, with no lag at middle-to-high engine speeds and a better chassis than ever before, but something fundamental had gone walkabout. After leaving the launch in early 2016 I described it as the best performance car you can buy - if you’re deaf. Mean, perhaps, but the point is as valid now as it was then. The 718 and 718 S cars are lacking in an area crucial to any Porsche’s appeal.

Porsche was stuck between European emissions laws, the prevalence of a certain Japaese saloon that pretty much owned the modern turbocharged flat-four concept, and the fact that the Porsche brand was, then as now, known and admired for offering something more exotic than the mainstream. It did what it had to do to try to meet emissions regulations without upsetting the apple cart too much, but the truth is that such a vast switch - some would say ‘reduction’ - in character was never likely to go well.

Slow Sales And Flat-Six 718s Prove Buyers Expect More From Porsche

Let’s hit the numbers, first in the US where things have arguably gone worst. From 7292 cars across the Cayman and Boxster 981 ranges in 2014, the total dropped to 6663 in 2015, that line’s last full year on sale and traditionally a slow one. In the overlap year, 2016, the figure was already lower again – 6260 cars. Alarm bells would have been sounding in Stuttgart. Boom: 2017 comes and goes, leaving a figure of only 5087 718s shifted.

It got worse. After a brief and small resurgence with 5276 units sold in the region in 2018, 2019 has seen it dive to just 3880. In Europe the figures peaked in 2016, when both old and new models were on sale, at 9770 cars across both models. Since then the numbers have dropped to 8438, 8202 and most recently 7100 or so – this last figure is estimated as we don’t have figures for December 2019 yet, but it represents a drop to about 650 cars less than the combined Boxster/Cayman figures for the 981’s final full year in 2015.

Double the capacity and a vastly better noise: It's the new GTS 4.0
Double the capacity and a vastly better noise: It's the new GTS 4.0

It’s not quite that simple in Europe, to be fair. The general market for sports cars is collapsing, so to have sold two consecutive years of the 718 at higher numbers than the 981, and to still be selling a number of 718s close to the 2015 mark is actually a pretty good performance under the circumstances. We couldn’t get hold of UK-specific sales figures but a Porsche GB spokesman told us that the 718 was holding its own in a sports car segment that was actually up 13 per cent on these shores, driven by the new BMW Z4 and updated Audi TT. Its market share has stayed similar in the face of the new challengers.

Still, the uncomfortable position for Porsche in its long-standing European and American markets is that the engine swap was too much. The 718 handles better than ever but buyers here aren’t into it in the same way because it lacks the exotic edge of the 981 before it; the edge provided by sound alone. Porsche knows it, too, having fairly urgently reintroduced six-bangers for the (evo Car of the Year-winning) Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder. These make up more than half of overall sales in the US, with the balance set to tip even further towards sixes now that a pair of six-cylinder GTS variants has been confirmed.

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As Porsche has already explained to Road & Track, the real reason the West was lumbered with a 718 that didn’t cut the sonic mustard is China. It’s much cheaper there to tax a 2.0-litre car with four cylinders than it is to slap the same ticket on a 3.4-litre flat-six, and there’s much less of an issue there with heritage or an expectation of six cylinders. Add to that the increased sales volume potential in a nation of over a billion people, and this side of the world we all suddenly look rather unimportant.

Without the demand from that vast nation we probably wouldn’t have a 718 at all, so perhaps we should be grateful, not grumbling. Maybe, much like building the Cayenne, Panamera and Macan, the 718 is just another one of those ‘wrong’ decisions Porsche is very good at making when the alternative is commercial failure.


Tomislav Celić

100% honest here: It won’t affect the sales. The Cayman isn’t a car for cruising around town flexing, nor is it a SUV.

It’s too small. People these days just don’t care about driving. The reason car sales are booming in China is because people flex with cars.

The only reason sports cars still exist is that very own reason. Sure, there are exceptions.

But it’s best we keep this in mind every time we wonder why some car is over styled, or why good cars don’t sell.

Hobbies change. My dad grew up helping his uncle fix cars. I grew up playing video games riddled with cosmetic micro-transactions, designed to flex in front of other players.

Not to sound boomer here, but without social media, people would flex less, and car culture would just die.

We are a dying breed my friends. Our hobby is unique

01/18/2020 - 16:13 |
26 | 6

You’re not wrong, a good example is Lamborghini getting rid of the LP moniker in their cars simply because “Our customers just don’t know what it means” (Btw It stands for Longitudinale Posteriore, meaning Longitudinally set in the back of the Car) Basically they’re aware their customers buy em only to flex

01/19/2020 - 07:41 |
12 | 0

Funny enough, I was not often around car people growing up. But after diving into Gran Turismo on my PlayStation for thousands of hours, I fell in love with Lancer Evos and the WRX. My first new car was am STi, almost directly from the influence of a video game. Of course I read up and realized an Evo was a bad idea; brutal performance, and you throw the car away at 70k.

You have some good points though. I’ve never dressed up my avatars and wouldn’t spend money on that, but I do play with h plenty of people who do.

01/19/2020 - 14:01 |
8 | 0

I disagree with that. If people didnt care about driving anymore we wouldnt have the amount of sports cars that are available today, so people are buying them, even the ones that cant be used for instagram flexing ( all the Hot hatches, BRZ, Elise etc.). People have always flexed with luxury cars all over the world, long since social media was even a thing.
The 4 cyl engine has always been the weakspot of the 718, with the flat 6 that issue is now taken care of. The Cayman GT4 is the perfect prove how desireable this car can be. I wouldnt be surprised to see the 6 cyl versions with long waiting times and priced above sticker.

01/19/2020 - 20:46 |
0 | 0

Futur will proove you wrong 100%

718 didn’t sell well because of the 6cyl the same way all those 981 retained their value so stupidly high since the 718 release. Now that Porsche solved the problem with a 4.0 6cyl (that you can get for around +5k€ as compared to a similarly optionned 718 S). There is now virtually zero reason to go for the 4cyl S-versions. All 4cyl versions will be directly affected by this, the base will drop dramatically, the S won’t sell anymore. On the used market 4cyl prices will drop even quicker, and 981 prices will probably decrease a bit too (now that the 6cyl is about to generalise on a big part of the 718 range…Most 981 are already 6y old and around 50m.miles now…). Porsche isn’t dumb, if they made this move, it’s because there was a high demand and optential buyers, why bother otherwise. Wait and see…

01/20/2020 - 22:19 |
0 | 0

I feel like part of the drop In sales in the U.S is the abundance of excellent performance cars in that prices range. Take a look at a Shelby GT350, Camaro ZL1, or Corvette. For the same money as a Cayman you can get a loud, powerful V8 that handles just as well (arguably). I feel that competition in that price range is so stiff that many people would rather have a top of the line muscle car or sedan (BMW M4) over a more basic (but still great) Porsche.

01/18/2020 - 18:57 |
24 | 0

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Good point, we have to remember the price is always king.

01/19/2020 - 14:03 |
6 | 0

China is the worst thing to happen to the car industry since the oil crisis.

01/18/2020 - 20:37 |
6 | 4

In reply to by Alias

Well can you blame them? When your country is finally a middle income nation after years of suffering under Mao, you’ll just wanna flex, and car culture over there hasn’t been given time to grow as fast as other nations.

01/19/2020 - 07:45 |
6 | 0

I still think its not the 4-Cylindee itself that ruined the 718 but how it was executed. There are ways to make exotic sounds out of a 4 cylinder boxer turbo. Many Subaru Tuners show us that. But the 718 just sounds extremly boring even for a four pot. It has a bit of rumbling down low but if you rev it it could be any Golf driven hard

01/18/2020 - 22:19 |
0 | 0

Dear Porsche management,
Take the motor out of the boot. You’ll sell more. Otherwise it’s a Beetle with posh badging

Der Furore

01/19/2020 - 06:26 |
0 | 12
01/19/2020 - 06:47 |
0 | 4

I bought a Boxster GTS in August, so I think I can speak with some real-world experience on this issue. My 3 previous vehicles were an ND Miata, S4 and Golf R. I have also owned cars with both V6 and V8 motors (never had the pleasure of an I6). Safe to say, I have owned cars with a variety of motor types. I will also say that I never had a chance to drive the H6 from the 981 Boxster, but I have driven several air-cooled 911’s.

Coming from the Miata, I wanted something that was a bit “more.” More power, handling and refinement, and it had to have a manual transmission. In today’s market, there really wasn’t a step between the Miata and a Boxster (I did consider the Corvette and F-Type) that checked all those boxes.

Now, how do I feel about the H4 in my Boxster? It doesn’t sound “bad” to my ears. In fact, with the exhaust valves open, it sort of sounds like an old air-cooled 911. To be honest, it does sound better than the vacuum-cleaner noise my S4 used to make. Yes, an H6 would sound much better, no question.

However, there is an argument I would make for the H4 being the superior, from a power delivery standpoint, motor over the H6 (especially the way the 4.0 H6 is currently geared) for driving on the street. The H4 has really good low-end torque and I have no complaints regarding throttle response for rev-matching. The H6 would be the superior motor for driving on the track, no question. However, in a drag race, I doubt the H6 will be any faster in the quarter mile than the H4 GTS. If it is, I doubt the price delta would justify the added performance.

Speaking of price, my GTS listed for $99K and I paid under $85K for it. Comparably equipped to my GTS, a 4.0L GTS would likely be priced very close to a 911 and there is no way dealers are going to discount them like the H4 (if they discount at all). Given the far superior resale value of the 911 over the Boxster/Cayman, it would be a hard sell for me to pick the 4.0L GTS Boxster over a 911 Convertible. Then again, what I paid for my GTS was at the very top end of what I was willing to spend, so even if I had that choice today, I would still pick the H4.

But I am not gonna lie, I am a bit jelly, but then a realize that all the arguments I just made are very valid (especially price) and I just sit back and enjoy the open sky, running through all 6 gears with a smile on my face.

01/19/2020 - 15:46 |
8 | 0



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