In 2002, Porsche snapped the public’s opinion in half when it sent the first-generation Cayenne to compete in the then-new high-performance SUV segment. Its bet paid off, and it just manufactured the one millionth example.
Built in Bratislava, Slovakia, the milestone car (shown above) is a GTS model painted in Carmine Red. Don’t look for it in the company’s official museum; it has already been delivered to a customer in Germany, so it might be cruising at 130 mph on the autobahn as you read this. Taking 18 years to build a million cars might not sound impressive, not when Ford sold nearly 900,000 units of the F-Series in 2019, but it’s a significant achievement for a small company like Porsche that hasn’t concerned itself with volume. Building the millionth 911 took 54 years.
And, without the hugely profitable Cayenne, we may not have the current 911. As it took a break to celebrate its production milestone, Porsche candidly explained it began looking at branching out into the SUV segment at the end of the 1990s as a way to boost its profits after a near-death experience earlier in the decade. It was saved from an uncertain fate by the original Boxster, but executives knew they had to reach more buyers by expanding the range to avoid ending up in the red again. Porsche consequently joined forces with Volkswagen to develop an off-roader code-named Colorado internally that blended the performance and handling buyers expected with a relatively high degree of all-terrain capability. It also needed to offer space for five passengers and their gear.
Porsche created a new development facility near Stuttgart specifically for the Cayenne because its historic Weissach site was out of space, and it built a new factory in Leipzig to manufacture the model. With the supply chain fired up, the firm unveiled the original Cayenne in September 2002 at the Paris auto show. Not everyone liked it, some argued Porsche had no business building an off-roader, but its fans were louder than its critics and sales ballooned during the early 2000s; it took about seven years to reach the 250,000 milestone. Its unexpected success didn’t go unnoticed across the industry: rivals and copycats popped up like fall mushrooms.
So, 18 years and three generations later, the Cayenne lineup includes several variants ranging from the base model to the handling-focused GTS, plus plug-in hybrid versions and a fastback-like Coupe introduced in 2019. Since its inception, it has won the grueling TransSyberia Rally, it has set lap records on the Nürburgring, and a diesel-powered model earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for towing an Airbus A380 for nearly 46 yards. We don’t know what’s next yet, but we’re betting it’ll take less than 18 years to reach the 2 million mark.