Why the Porsche Cayman isn’t a success

You might imagine that the greatest threat to the 911 might come from some high-powered, homogenising bean counter in Wolfsburg. Such a mindset would never be completely happy until the company was building the entire VW group range on a maximum of three platforms. Fortunately, despite rather wider application of the Porsche badge than we would like, such extreme rationalisation seems pretty unlikely. And anyway, the 911 does share its platform – with the Boxster and the Cayman.

Now, if the Boxster successfully opened Porsche to a broader market than the 924-968 range did, the career of the more recent roofed version, the Cayman, has been less illustrious. Indeed, at the end of 2010, Forbes.com, the American business and markets website, went as far as to name to Cayman as the US’s tenth worst-selling car in 2010. This was on the basis that figures from Porsche showed that its US sales had dropped 31 percent compared with 2009. For external consumption, Porsche usually brackets Boxster and Cayman sales together, which hides the proportion of each sold, but when the figures are split, the Box generally outsells the coupé by some margin.

So what is holding the Cayman back? Lithe, mid-engined handling, proper Porsche brakes and a driving experience that leaves competitors like the BMW Z4 or Audi’s hottest TT RS in the shade. There seem to be three problem areas; the chassis could handle more power, the Cayman’s looks do not differentiate it enough from the Boxster, and it has always been priced significantly above the convertible. It is also neither Boxster nor 911, which may seem obvious, but it means it has to find a slightly different niche. Perpetually in the shade of the 911, the Cayman has no racing heritage to boost it and Porsche Motorsport shows no sign of offering a competition version, so there is none of the halo effect which the GT3 bestows on the 911. For the wider market, the Cayman’s looks are less striking than the Audi TT’s and the image-conscious would certainly aspire to a more recognisable Porsche; ie a 911.

So how could Porsche make more of the Cayman? Restyling is not an option in the short to medium term, but what about the price? The Cayman suffers some of the worst depreciation of the Porsche range; 2007 cars selling at 45 percent of their new price is almost BMW territory. Of course, in pitching the Cayman above the Boxster, Porsche is seeking to protect the hallowed 911, which is why Porsche bridles its power output. For this reason, Zuffenhausen leaves it to the tuners to make a turbo version.

Surely sooner or later someone in Wolfsburg is going to alight on this and tell Porsche to make more of this model. Last year’s announcement of a 330bhp, 1295kg Cayman R is an encouraging start, but Zuffenhausen needs to go further; another 90kg shaved off and 15 percent from the list price. Porsche needs to take the plunge and create a real 1200kg, 380bhp Cayman RS which could show the non-Turbo 911s a clean pair of heels. Porsche should stop seeing the Cayman as a threat and let it compete with the 911, both in the marketplace and on the track. A little competition might also shift more of the company’s focus back to its sports cars, which for us is what Porsche should be all about.

Comments (28)

  • leo

    they should start by calling it simply a BOXSTER COUPE and go from there…..

  • Bob Bax

    I feel like many others who have tried the Cayman, that the car is not being given a fair crack of the whip by Porsche. I changed my 997 Gen 1 GT3 last November (2010) for a new Cayman S with a very high spec, of Driving, Comfort, and Styling options.
    The PDK with Sports Chrono Plus, makes this car for normal street driving as rapid as the GT3, because of the fantastic capability and speed of operation of the PDK System.
    The mid engine layout with the optional limited slip diff, and the PASM, makes this a car that you can more easily test the limit in confidence than the GT3.
    The GT3 was an outstanding car for me and I’m pleased I owned one and had a lot of fun with it – but the Cayman is ALLWAYS a pleasure to drive.

  • Wilson Laidlaw

    A someone who for some years has had 911’s (currently own 997 Turbo S and 1977 Carrera 3.0RS) but has also driven quite a few Boxsters and Caymans, I think part of the issue may be steering feel. There is too much stiction for my liking, which tends to give the steering a slightly dead feel. I would be very surprised if Porsche used different steering racks for the 911 and Boxster/Cayman, so it must be down to either weight distribution or valving. The Cayman S I drove, was the worst in this aspect.

    Wilson

  • John R Hunter

    You have got the wrong end of the stick completely. Leave the Cayman alone, it’s fine as it is.
    Why is there always this automatic assumption that if a car is good, it will only be better if it has more power? Porsche built its repuation on cars that were small, light and agile, but without huge power, it is what made the 356 the icon that it is. IMHO Porsche are ruining their range by constantly making it too big, too heavy, too fast and too expensive. GT2 as a road car? … get real!
    My original 2.7 Cayman (with no fancy options) is a damned near perfect road car however. Fast enough to be entertaining, but without pulling “go to jail” numbers if you blink for two seconds. It also uses modest amounts of petrol, and is not in the top road tax bracket. In a world of traffic congestion, speed cameras and health and safety obsession, I struggle to find places to use its 245 bhp to the full as it is. Adding lots more power would only add more frustration.
    Porsche would do well to reflect on what made its road cars so popular in the first place, and bring us more cars like the simple basic Cayman, and less of the current cars that are frankly unusable on today’s roads. I want a Porsche to use, not to brag about!

  • Remember the phrase, lies, damn lies and statistics? Unfortuneately your numbers don’t tell the whole story. For 2010 Porsche ramped down Cayman production and cut advertising for the car to divert resources elsewhere. The thought process was that the Boxster Spyder would make up the sales gap and if more was needed then a “special” verison of the Cayman could be whipped up in short order later using off the shelf parts which is exactly what happened with the Cayman R. So without cars available to buy (dealer’s had no allocations in some cases) then of course Cayman sales went down, but it has nothing to do with the car or the desireability of the car and EVERYTHING to do with how Porsche chooses to manage the Cayman. You also need to remember that there are people inside of Porsche who view the Cayman as a threat to the 911 and their careers and those people are in positions of power within the company. They are the ones coming up with almost 30 variations of the 911. Really? Do we need 30 911 variants? No, but it keeps those teams inside of Porsche employed and busy, resources that otherwise might be spent on the Boxster or Cayman. Upon its introduction, the Cayman set a sales record for Porsche sports cars and sold at levels the 911 has never achieved in a single month. So I think the demand is there and certainly the demand is there for Porsche to unleash the Cayman and let the platform be all it can be, but Porsche, unless directed by VW, will NEVER do it, it is career suicide for those within Porsche who depend on the 911. It’s a stupid turf war waged by narrow minded and short sighted individuals. Some claim that the 911 is more profitable than the Cayman, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, the figures have never been shared, but the 911 pales in comparison to the profitibility of the Cayenne or the Panamera, so profit alone isn’t a reason to hold a car back, in fact you can argue the opposite that if allowed to shine you could charge more for enhanced Cayman versions like a turbo or GT3 equivalent. The simple truth is that the Cayman is a superior platform to the 911, you know, I know it, and Porsche knows it. I don’t think that means the Cayman isn’t a success, in fact I think that means just the opposite. If the Cayman wasn’t so well loved, well thought of and shining in so many tests, Porsche wouldn’t sell any of them and would cancel the car, the Cayman has succeed in spite of the handicaps given to it by Porsche.

  • Niall Gately

    One of the posters above maintains the view that Porsche’s reputation was built on small light sportscars. I don’t realy buy into that. Maybe a certain older demographic came to the brand in the early 70’s and had a certain perception of the brand along those lines. But for the world at large, what made Porsche famous was the big pwer machine, the 917’s on the race track and the 930 Turbo in the 1970’s. Porsche is a Premium brand that suggests, Power, Speed, Drivability, Comfort, Luxury, Reliability. Something like a Lotus Elise is a brand that exudes ‘light weight sports car.’ Or to some others out there, ‘cheap and nasty.’ So I for one would hate Porsche to start making flimsy lightweight sportscars and to keep making real cars, real superlative cars. So don’t lighten the Cayman, just giv it a turbo.

  • Trommy

    We own a 2006 911 and a 2007 Cayman, I drive them both frequently. The Cayman has superior handling and could easily put the 911 to shame on a track if it had the same amount of power and torque. People who don’t know Porsche seem to like the Cayman better and it gets much more attention than my 911. Having said all that I will always be more partial to the 911. to me that is what a Porsche is.

  • I do not agree with Niall Gately

  • Eddy

    All these arguments about how the Cayman isn’t as good as the 911 seem to always come from 911 owners.

    Of course they’re going to say that!

    The Cayman S is an exceptional car. 911 owners are threatened by it.

    Drive one and see for yourself.

  • Christian

    Why don’t they simply call the Cayman a “911 Roadster”, and the Boxster a “911 Roadster Cabrio” ?!
    So everybody would be happy! 😉

  • Arthur b

    Out of the 6 porsche salesmen I have spoken to at a dealership, every single one of them said they prefer the cayman to every other vehicle they have driven.

  • jb

    This is so true, I just got a 2014 981 & the car is great , I love it. I also loved my 987 ;))

  • Michael D’Silva

    i bought a second hand Cayman S…. why?
    Cos I couldn’t realistically afford a similar year 911.

    Where I live, the 911 equivalent, would be easy double the money.
    The CS is a brilliant car. More than i could ever exploit. But, as a bit of a dreamer, i still wish i had a 911…

  • PTB

    We had the same discussion with the 250bhp 944 turbo (951) in 1989 where it challenged the 911 and… Porsche ended the 951 by 1990. I’m selling a Cayman and a 951 at the moment.

  • Enchanted

    I do not like the style of the Cayman. You can’t have a convertible or a sun roof because of the curve of the roof. I will keep my 911.

  • Old Time Player

    I special ordered a 2014 Basic Cayman with approx $18K in amenities which is relatively small compared to the average. I bought the car strictly for cruising and love it. I’ve driven it for 4 months now and can say I don’t need the extra horsepower because racing on a track is the furthest thing from my mind. I’ve owned several new sports cars dating back to the early 70’s and I can honestly say it is the first one that turns heads almost on a daily basis. It’s my first new Porsche. Why some 911 purists feel threatened is beyond my comprehension. They are two totally different cars. I realize Porsche USA is perhaps the most thrifty
    when it comes to providing even a small thing like a free subscription magazine for the first year or even Sirus for 3 months. Those are trivial but I’m concerned about how they stand behind their warranties.

  • richcz3

    It’s really very simple. The 911 comes with a storied racing history and prestige that comes at a price. The Cayman is the ideal mid engine performer with arguably better looks. Some see the Cayman as the cheap upstart with no history riding on the 911’s coat tails. If and whenever Porsche gives the Cayman the performance it deserves, it will be at a price rivaling or significantly exceeding buying a similar 911.

  • Fourlix

    Great car, with an image problem. Marketing as a silly Geico lizard is a stupid mistake. Give it a Porsche name, which is a number. Call it a 966 or a 926. Sharpen and clean up the lines. The 911 is an icon based on a 50 year old design. Give the “966” its own identity, its own look. Get it out of the shadow of the 911 and it will sell. We know it is a great car because we are enthusiasts, nobody else knows anything about it.

  • richcz3

    Gieco Lizard? There are enthusiast sites like Planet-9 that use Cayman (crocs) as symbols, but those aren’t official Porsche symbols. As for the model numbers, Caymens/Boxsters went under the number 987 and the latest models are 981’s. Porsche Caymans fly under the radar because so few people know they exist. I knew about the Cayanne, Boxster, Panamera. I almost bought a 2004 911 4S before I found out about the Cayman. Cayman (981) sales are up significantly in 2013 but well below 911 sales. Porsche has no intention of creating a rivalry between Caymans and 911’s so they can continue to charge a premium for 911’s.

  • cjl

    You can’t have a convertible? What on earth is a Boxster then?

  • Enchanted

    You did not read my comment correctly. You can not have a convertible on the Cayman because of the curve of the roof. Even though the Cayman has been completely redesigned and looks very nice you still cannot get a convertible on a CAYMAN.
    As far as a Boxster? I have had two and really liked them. However to be flat out honest they do not compare to a Carrera.

  • cjl

    I did read your comment, and I still don’t understand your complaint. A Boxster and a Cayman have identical engines, very similar suspensions, basically identical brakes, identical gearboxes, identical exhausts. The chassis is a bit different, but that’s a necessity since one is a convertible and one isn’t. A Boxster is, for all intents and purposes, a convertible Cayman. Both are slower than a Carrera.

  • Enchanted

    When I drive my vehicles, no one is looking at the engine, they see the outside. When I purchase a new vehicle, yes I look at the engine, but mostly the aesthetics . I do not find the cayman to be attractive and not being able to get a convertible makes it even less attractive. I liked the way the Boxster looked, so I had purchased one.

    If you like the cayman that is great. This the reason car makers have different models, for different tastes

  • richcz3

    What keeps the 911 around is the its roots in racing and a winning history that is very bankable. It’s the companies cornerstone and lineage which as you describe, many inside are quick to protect while keeping the Cayman a more obscure brand within the companies lineup. I’ll admit while searching for a 911 to buy I hadn’t even heard of a Cayman – almost bought my bothers 911 4S. I found the Cayman by accident in a search online and one day later owned an S. I commented to the the local Porsche dealer that Porsche might do good to advertise the Cayman more and his response was a muted if not remarkable “Porsche advertising is fine.” For now, I think Porsche is content with word of mouth advertising for the Cayman. I get comments along the lines of “nice 911” and when I respond its a Cayman, the odd stare some reply “Isn’t it a Porsche? or “What kind of Porsche is that?” Porsche will advertise the Macan, Cayenne, or Panamera are least likely to cannibalize sales from the 911.

  • cjl

    Once again, I don’t see why you make a distinction between a hypothetical Cayman convertible and a Boxster. In my mind, the Boxster is a Cayman convertible. That’s all I’ve been trying to say.

  • Enchanted

    Really? They look nothing alike. Perhaps you buy a car based on the engine alone but it will never make the two look the same.

  • cjl

    They look pretty similar to me – obviously there are changes due to the fact that the roof line is completely different, but other than that…

    http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5143/5729727612_4312e00ef5_z.jpg

    http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5308/5729727276_4cd4d4b8cc_z.jpg

    http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5185/5729727982_11ff2d858e_z.jpg

    Even the new ones look pretty similar, in my opinion:

    http://flatsixes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/2014-porsche-boxster-s-and-cayman-s-photo-554455-s-986×603.jpg

  • John E Strom Jr.

    Does anyone know the total production figures on the Cayman R? Seems Porsche goes out of its way to keep this data a secret. [Same for Audi]

    I did find [wikipedia] they built 777 Cayman “Black edition” – I read there were only 500 built – so which to trust. Also there were 700 Cayman S – Sport built for model year 2009. They mention the specs for the Cayman R but no production figures. I’ve seen estimates as high as 4000 cars but in light of the much smaller production figures for the “Black edition” and the Cayman S Sport that seems high. Very high. If anyone has information on the total production figures for the Cayman R it would be greatly appreciated. Happy 2014 to everyone. 🙂

    PS I’ve an Audi TT RS and I don’t think the Cayman S will “smoke” the TT RS. The Cayman S has a 0-60 of 4.7 sec and 175 mph for the manual transmission car. The automatic is 4.6 sec and 174 mph. My TT RS has a 0-60 of 4.1 sec and a top end of 174 mph. The automatic has a 0-60 time of 3.7 sec but is only sold in Europe.

    I love the TT RS styling but I also love the Cayman R styling. Both are fabulous cars – but neither is quite as fabulous as the Audi R8 with the V10. THAT is a very special car. 🙂