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Why the Porsche Cayenne is the most important new car of the last 20 years, and how

The Cayenne was a gamerchanger for Porsche.

The butterfly effect is a chaos theory positing that a small change in initial circumstances can ultimately lead to a large-scale altering of a much larger situation. The name comes from the idea that something as small as a butterfly flapping its wings can eventually create a hurricane.

The Porsche Cayenne is much bigger than a butterfly, but its impact on the automotive world over the past two decades cannot be understated. In fact, the Porsche SUV may be the most important new model launched since the turn of the new millennium.

The Cayenne - which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2022 - can legitimately claim to have revolutionised the types of vehicles we buy. No, it was not the first ‘luxury SUV’ or ‘luxury off-roader’, that honour goes to the original Range Rover. And no, it was not the first luxury SUV to arrive near the turn of the millennium, the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class (now known as the GLE) beat it to market.

But the arrival of Porsche into the SUV space was truly a seismic shift for the car industry as we know it today.

Under the direction of then CEO Wendelin Wiedeking Porsche partnered with Volkswagen (remember, the two companies were separate back in the late 1990s) on ‘Project Colorado’ to co-develop a new SUV platform that would become the Cayenne and Touareg

Perhaps the biggest element that the Cayenne brought to the modern SUV as we now know it, is that while it was still very off-road capable, it was very much an SUV built for the urban jungle - not the actual jungle.

This was arguably the moment that the concept of the ‘SUV’ rather than ‘off-roader’ was born. Prior to the Cayenne, these types of large four-wheel drive wagons were focused on getting you to rugged and remote places. Certainly the X5 and M-Class played a role in this too, but the Cayenne with its performance capability took things to a new level.

In 2002, Porsche Australia sold 712 cars - all either a 911 or Boxster (these were the days pre-Cayman). The ‘All Terrain Large Wagon’ segment, as it was then known, was limited to the X5, M-Class, Range Rover, Toyota LandCruiser, Nissan Patrol and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Fast forward 20 years and Porsche is now a very different car maker. In 2021 Porsche Australia sold 4448 cars, that’s more than a 500 per cent increase from two decades ago. Of those models sold, more than 800 were Cayenne (wagon and coupe) and the brand’s biggest selling model - by a significant margin - was the Macan. That means last year, SUVs accounted for more than 70 per cent of all Porsche sales in Australia.

There’s no question the Macan would not exist without the Cayenne. The success of the Cayenne not only allowed Porsche the financial ability to expand its SUV range but gave it the confidence that the Macan project would work.

But the impact of the Cayenne is not just the success it brought Porsche. The reason why it’s the defining new vehicle of recent memory is the effect it had across the entire industry.

While it was certainly a controversial addition to Porsche’s range initially, the fact it became a top-seller emboldened so many rival brands to expand into a segment of the market few would have considered previously.

Even in 2022, the butterfly effect of the Cayenne’s arrival continues, with Ferrari set to reveal its own take on an SUV - the Purosangue - in September. It joins the likes of the Bentley Bentayga, Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Lamborghini Urus, Aston Martin DBX, Audi Q7, Maserati Levante and others that have all followed in the wheel tracks of the Cayenne.

In fact, you can add the likes of the Macan, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Range Rover Velar, BMW X3 and X4, Mercedes GLC, Volkswagen Tiguan and more that are also a result of the change the Cayenne brought to the industry.

Few other cars on sale today can claim to that type of legacy, but the Cayenne can.