Fred Schwab, who helped rescue Porsche’s U.S. fortunes, dies

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ATLANTA — Frederick Schwab, a Detroiter who helped bring Porsche back from collapse in the early 1990s, died July 9 following a brief battle with cancer. He was 81.

Schwab was CEO of Porsche Cars North America for more than a decade, during which he steered the fabled sports car brand out of the pits of the early 1990’s recession, when sales fell to a fraction of what they had been in the status-conscious ’80s and when many dealers dropped the franchise.

He steered a management overhaul by hiring former Toyota managers to instill the Japanese automaker’s vaunted lean operating methods and help improve Porsche product quality.

Under his watch, Porsche introduced key new models in North America, including the midengine Boxster roadster, which gave new buyers a sub-$40,000 MSRP entry to the brand, as well as the Cayenne, Porsche’s daring entry in the SUV and crossover segment.

The product expansion fueled a new era of sales for Porsche, with volume rising nearly sevenfold during Schwab’s tenure.

Schwab was a former accountant and later an executive with the German supplier and trailer manufacturer Fruehauf.

He was recruited to Porsche in 1985 to serve in an administrative and planning role at a time when sales were in decline. When he was handed the top job at Porsche in 1992, after the trough of the U.S. recession, the brand racked up sales of just 4,115. In 2003, the year Schwab retired, Porsche sold 28,417 vehicles.

In 2019, the brand’s U.S. deliveries tallied 61,568 behind five nameplates: the famed 911, as well as the Boxster and Panamera, and two SUVs — the Cayenne and Macan. Porsche has added another nameplate in 2020 — the all-electric Taycan,

“We’ve gone from disaster to pretty good success,” Schwab told Autoweek magazine in 2003. “That’s going to be the major legacy — that the face of Porsche has changed in North America.”

Schwab also created Porsche Financial Services and relocated the company’s U.S. headquarters from Reno, Nev., where it had been focused on its biggest U.S. market, California, to Atlanta.

Toward the end of his stint, Schwab ushered Porsche into the utility vehicle segment with the launch of the Cayenne. It was a controversial move for the purveyor of sexy two-door sports cars. But it proved to be prescient. The Cayenne today is Porsche’s second-best-seller.

“It is always easier to not do something,” Schwab said in a Wharton marketing club presentation in 2002. “But the challenge in business is to do something that will make you stronger.”

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Saurabh Shukla

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