Porsche managed to keep the Cayenne a secret until it was ready for its debut.
Welcome to the latest installment in the history of the Porsche Cayenne, which is 20 years old this year.
So far, we've received a vast amount of information on how the Cayenne came to be. Porsche gave us a look at the original design sketches, and we found out that it nearly built a minivan instead. But until now, Porsche has not revealed how it managed to keep the Cayenne, codenamed Project Colorado, a secret for so long.
The internet was readily available 20 years ago, as were spy photographers. Yet somehow, Porsche managed to keep its first-ever SUV a secret until it was ready to show it to the world.
How? Well, in typical German fashion, it invaded a town (with apologies to Porsche, the joke was right there).
Porsche chose not to develop the Cayenne in Weissach, with good reason. It chose a small town called Hemmingen, neatly located between Weissach and Porsche's headquarters in Zuffenhausen.
Hemmingen had everything Porsche needed, including a 3,800 m2 abandoned computer assembly plant. A total of 300 engineers (260 from Porsche and 40 from VW) moved in and started working on the SUVs that would spawn dozens of rival products.
As we now know, Porsche's engineers were encouraged to drive as many rival products as possible. Obviously, some of them had Porsche company cars, and the Colorado test mules were bound to attract attention.
Porsche's head of products, Klaus-Gerhard Wolpert, came up with a cunning plan. The abandoned factory they were working from had no signs outside. The Porsches that used to be parked out front were moved to the same closed garage housing the mules. There was no indication that Porsche had essentially taken over the town. As if that's not enough, the building Porsche was working from had mirrored windows and the entire area was surrounded by a fence. Visitors had to be registered by a guard and escorted around by the Porsche employee they were there to see.
"The Cayenne product line was run like a company in its own right," says Wolpert. "I had the entire budget and responsibility and my only boss at that time was Wendelin Wiedeking." The seclusion of the Cayenne from the rest of Porsche's development fostered a strong bond between the people who were based in Hemmingen.
According to Wolpert, it made the team more robust and immune to skeptics in and outside the company. On every level - from assembly-line workers to department heads - there were employees who took a critical view of the company's strategic decision, recalls Wolpert. That attitude quickly changed once that sweet SUV cash came rolling in. It's well-known that the Cayenne saved Porsche from failure.
"We were well ahead of our time back then," says Oliver Laqua, who joined the team as a young concept engineer in 1998 and today serves as the overall vehicle project manager for the Cayenne. "All the modern-day start-ups with their flat hierarchies and big project spaces - we had that back in 1998."
Porsche did not abandon Hemmingen after the Cayenne was done. Cayenne development was moved to Weissach in 2019 and today Hemmingen is home to Porsche's next big step forward. About 700 employees of the Macan product line are currently developing the sports car manufacturer's first all-electric SUV there. This time, a controversial new offering is no secret.