In the same way that Disneyland is famed for its themed “lands” that provide unique experiences to the park’s guests, Porsche’s new North American headquarters, in Atlanta, Georgia, was built to offer a similar experience for its visitors — though, of course, with an exciting automotive twist.
Porsche is no stranger to Atlanta; its operations have been run out of America’s ninth-largest metropolitan area since 1998. But, after a decade in that location, it was time to move to a more convenient site that would not only join Porsche Financial Services, Porsche Business Services, Porsche Consulting, and ad agency Mieschke Hofmann & Partners under the same roof but also would serve as a customer and visitor center. Nearly four years to the date after it was announced, the all-new $100 million Porsche Experience Center (PEC) opened its doors on a 27-acre parcel on the northeast corner of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Addressed as One Porsche Drive, the all-encompassing complex includes office space, a cafeteria, conference facilities, athletic training center, automotive museum, company archives, service bays, showrooms, a world-class restaurant, and a challenging racing circuit. There indeed is something for everyone (even if they don’t know a flat six from chopsticks).
Last week, we flew to Atlanta for the Porsche Experience Center grand opening. It was an extravagant gala, attended by the mayor of Atlanta, the governor of Georgia, and the entire Porsche AG board of directors (fitting, as the headquarters represents the largest investment the German automaker has ever made outside its homeland). Before the party we spent several hours touring, which revealed a fascinating and impressive site with many layers of, well, experience.
The business side of One Porsche Drive will ultimately be home to 450 employees who have workplaces on the top floors. In addition to its executive, administrative, financial and public relations offices, the Porsche Experience Center has a workshop and training center that will serve its 189 dealerships.
The public side — an estimated 30,000 guests are expected to visit the Porsche Experience Center each year — encompasses just about everywhere else. Walking through the foyer reveals an expansive core, branching out to a business center with 13,000 square feet of event and conference space. At the top corner of the building, overlooking 9,000-foot runway 26R, is a well-polished contemporary restaurant named after the first production Porsche: Restaurant 356.
Downstairs is a beautiful classic center museum, housing nearly a dozen of the automaker’s celebrated race vehicles — each is worthy of its own historic tome. Immediately adjacent is an archive, which will open its doors to those doing research on the storied marque. Quiet and nearly windowless, this was our favorite room.
Enthusiasts will be drawn to the 1.6-mile Driver Development Track, situated in an expansive grassy area directly below the glide path of the runway, which will be the center point of six instructor-led driving modules. Drivers with all levels of experience are offered the opportunity to run the Handling Circuit, Off-Road Course, Dynamics Area, Low Friction Handling Circuit, Low Friction Circle, and experience the only “Kick Plate” in North America — it’s a hydraulically actuated metal plate that quickly shifts the rear axle of the vehicle to one side, simulating snap oversteer.
We went for a couple hot laps on the circuit, tightly lined with guardrail, as a passenger. It is quite narrow compared to the dozens of other road courses we have experienced, but this is an instruction course; no passing will be allowed. The GT3 and Panamera Turbo models piloted by the instructors were overkill — they were barely panting — but they definitely delivered the thrills.
Those who would rather slop in the mud or test the hillclimbing capabilities of a Cayenne need only travel a few yards to a challenging off-road course neighboring the paved circuit. It’s complete with sticky mud traps, boulders and steep obstacles — good stuff.
Porsche is justifiably proud of its newest landmark and is quick to remind visitors that its proximity to the world’s busiest airport allows approximately 80 percent of the U.S. population to reach its Porsche Experience Center in just over two hours of flight time. Inescapably visible to the 98 million passengers who fly into the busy hub, or the countless who drive by on I-75, the Porsche Experience Center seems destined to be one of the happiest places on earth, and not just to a Porschephile.
Photos: ©2015 Porsche North America