Session 1999

Epreuve écrite d'anglais

Porsche's arrogance nearly ruined the company. The automaker is pragmatic now – and thriving.

1 In the early 1990s Porsche's smug do-it-our-way perfectionism nearly ruined the company. Costs were skyrocketing at the same time that sales of the firm's speedy sports cars were slowing. In 1992 Porsche lost $138 million and was thought to be a takeover target. Porsche's production chief then, Wendelin Wiedeking, made a bold decision: he hired two Japanese consultants. One of them, Chihiro Nakao, visited a Porsche factory in Stuttgart. What he saw was surprising: a chaotic, inefficient assembly line. Workers clambering up ladders to pull parts off 10 foot-high shelves. "Where is the factory?" hollered Nakao over the noise to Wiedeking. "This is a warehouse." Later Wiedeking grabbed a circular saw and cut through several of the tall shelves that were hampering the production process. Workers looked on in amazement.

The dramatic scene quickly came to symbolize a new order of business at Porsche. Wiedeking, now Porsche's chief executive officer, has spent the last four years giving the goldplated automaker a thorough overhaul. Long obsessed with engineering, Porsche today functions more like a regular car company – albeit one that makes sleek, $70,000 racing machines. Wiedeking streamlined Porsche's management structure, cut the work force by 20 per cent and adopted Japan's "lean manufacturing" system, which features small assembly teams and no excess inventory. Porsche also took a hard look at its products. The firm revamped the classic 911 and hatched a slick, two-seat roadster called the Boxster – Porsche's first totally new car in 18 years.

3 [The long-overdue reforms have put Porsche back on the fast track. After years of losses, the company is profitable again. The 911 is hot, and there is a long waiting list for the Boxster. Wiedeking is pleased with the turnaround. Says he: "[We're] demonstrating that even a small automobile manufacturer can compete and maintain its independence."

4 Like other German companies, Porsche was slow to learn that paying too much attention to quality can be a problem. The old Porsche relied heavily on post-assembly specialists who spent days repairing flawed cars after they rolled off the lines. The post-assembly unit was the most prestigious in the plant. Today the repair shop is nearly extinct. Mistakes are fixed on the line, right after they occur. As a result, the assembly line for a 911 has been halved over the last three years.]

5 The old Porsche also looked down its nose at the sales process. "There was no marketing strategy at all," says Porsche executive Hans Riedel. These days, Porsche relies on advertising campaigns, demographic research, direct marketing and strategic "price points" – just like everybody else.

6 Porsche is branching away from its core customers – wealthy, graying males with a need for speed. Like its German brethren Mercedes and BMW, the company is eyeing younger, less affluent buyers. With the new vehicle, Porsche hopes to capitalize on a trend toward more fun, comfort and social acceptability in sports cars. Porsche also hopes to attract a new group of buyers – females.

7 More than ever, Porsche is mindful of keeping a lid on costs. For example, 40 per cent of the Boxster's parts will be compatible with the new 911 to be unveiled next year. Porsche's biggest problem is a happy one: it doesn't bave enough production capacity to meet orders.

8 Porsche will always be a specialized company – a rogue among the world's biggest carmakers. But these days it's a more sensible rogue, focused as much on the bottom line as it is on turning out well-tuned automobiles.

Richard Ernsberger Jr. and Reinhard Engel- Newsweek May 12, 1997


1) Traduire en français depuis « The long-overdue reforms » jusqu'à « over the last three years. » (10 points).

2) Répondre en anglais à la question suivante et indiquer le nombre de mots utilisés : 
Explain why the Porsche company was nearly ruined in the early 90s. (about 150 words) (10 points)


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