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Auto People: Porsche’s Laurance Yap

Auto journalist experience an asset for marketing role. Former Wheels writer knows how consumers and automakers think.

Published March 15, 2014

Toronto Star

It’s always fascinating to see the auto industry from both sides, and Laurance Yap has certainly done that.

Wheels readers will remember Yap as a writer and auto reviewer in these pages. Today, he’s director of marketing for Porsche Cars Canada, where he works on everything from pricing and advertising to shows, events and customer relations.

“You start to realize how much more there is to the industry than just building a car,” he says. “When I was a journalist, I was focusing on the car, what I liked and didn’t like. I’ve gotten to understand all the stuff that goes on around it.

“Take the Macan (SUV) that’s coming in the late spring this year. They’ve had to put €500 million into a factory expansion, hire a thousand-plus workers, co-ordinate the suppliers, get Michelin to develop new tires, and we have to revamp our dealer network to make sure we have the extra capacity so we can sell them. When you look at how many people are involved and how much time it takes, it’s remarkable that any car makes it to market at all.”

Born in Manila, Yap moved to Canada when he was 2. Building on his three great loves of cars, writing and technology, he earned a degree in creative writing and mass communication while working part-time installing and repairing Mac computer systems.

His first published story was a book review in a Chinese-language automotive magazine — its first English article, since Yap doesn’t speak Chinese. While still in university, he wrote his first article for the Toronto Star, and a year later was reviewing vehicles.

Being the auto section’s youngest contributor had its drawbacks.

“Land Rover offered me a Discovery (to review),” he says. “I went all the way out there to pick it up in Mississauga, and they said, ‘The insurance policy says you have to be 25,’ and I was 19. So I got back on the bus.”

His love of Porsches dates back to long before he could drive, and there was always a poster of a 911 on his wall. “I liked the shape,” he says. “The initial attraction was always the way they looked. Then I drove my first Porsche in 2000 and said, ‘Oh, they drive really nice, too!’ ”

In 2007, the automaker invited three journalists on the Transsyberia Rally, a race from Moscow to Mongolia, and Yap ended up as a navigator.

“We were driving across the Gobi Desert, it was late in the day, the sun was low, it looked completely flat, there’s dust flying everywhere, and we essentially drove off a 20-foot ledge,” he says. “We rolled our car three or four times, and the engine ended up 20 metres away.”

Yap was bleeding profusely from what turned out to be a minor head wound.

“I can laugh at it now, but the ambulance ride to the next town was more traumatic than the crash, itself,” he says. “It was 14 hours in a Russian van. We had to stop a couple of times for the driver to get out and bash something underneath. But Porsche still hired me, even though we’d written off a €180,000 Cayenne race truck in the desert.”

That hiring came about in 2008, when Porsche, which previously handled its Canadian operations through the U.S., opened an office here. Yap applied for the job of public relations manager.

“I got a call saying, ‘we like you, but because it’s a spokesperson job, Germany has to interview you as well,’ ” he recalls. “I squeezed in a trip where I didn’t even stay there overnight.”

He moved to marketing three years later.

“I was already assuming responsibility for product planning in addition to PR, and it turns out that’s a big part of the marketing job,” he says. “It’s pricing and deciding on what content to put into cars.

“I got floor mats and Bluetooth made standard in Canada. I’d spent 10 years writing, ‘why doesn’t Porsche include them?’ and thinking it was the easiest thing in the world,” he says. “But, on the inside, it’s a six-month process. I had to prove that, by including these features, we’d sell more cars to make up the cost of including them for free. It’s insanely complicated, but it’s also really cool.”

wheels@thestar.ca

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