- The rally-inspired Porsche 911 Dakar was nearly called the 911 Safari.
- The automaker Tata Motors, which makes the Safari SUV, refused to lend out the name.
- The Dakar name posed challenges of its own.
- Plus, learn how Porsche won over skeptics from inside the company.
Secrets of the 911 Dakar: Tata Kept Porsche From Calling It the Safari
Rally-inspired 911 can conquer anything except copyright law
Few modern vehicles have shaken the automotive world like the 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. This rally-ready sports car comes with all-terrain tires, a 473-horsepower engine and a storied name that pays homage to what many regard as the toughest off-road race in the world.
That would be the Dakar Rally. Each year from 1979 to 2007, this grueling off-road race began in Europe, crossed the African desert and ended in the capital city of Dakar, Senegal. (It has since relocated to South America.) The 911 took an overall Dakar victory in 1984, lending the new 911 Dakar a true rally-racing pedigree. But the car nearly had a completely different name.
“It started with 911 Safari,” Thomas Krickelberg, director of the 911 Dakar program, told Edmunds.com during a Porsche event in Morocco.
Porsche first began development in 2012 for the previous-generation 911. At that time, Krickelberg explained, the plan was to call it the 911 Safari, a name that carries its own history. Safari-style vehicles refer to sports cars with beefed up tires, suspension and armor to handle the rigors of off-roading. The company developed a working prototype called the 911 Vision Safari to tease a production model.
But there was a problem. The rights to the name Safari, at least when referring to automobiles, belongs to Tata Motors — parent company of Jaguar and Land Rover, among other marques. The Indian automaker has been building its Safari midsize SUV for select global markets since 1998. And it was not about to lend Porsche a helping hand.
“We talked to them,” Krickelberg said. “But they didn’t give us permission for that. That was Option A. And then we switched to Dakar.”
More Hiccups… Temporarily
One iconic name made way for another. Problem solved, right? Wrong. It turned out that the Dakar name didn’t come easily, either. The rights to that name, when used in an automotive context, belong to the Amaury Sport Organization, or ASO, which organizes the Dakar rally.
Porsche hoped to have free use of the name, since Dakar is the name of a city and therefore in the public domain. But the company ultimately needed permission from the ASO, and paid a price for the rights.
“Then it was smooth,” Krickelberg said with a chuckle.
The good news is that the 911 Dakar has been met with strong demand, executives say. Porsche will build 2,500 examples, with roughly 600 making their way to U.S. customers.
Project leaders say they believed in its viability from the start. But heads of the company’s sales and marketing departments needed more convincing. They struggled to see the demand for an off-road 911 with limited production numbers, and worried that it would fail to turn a profit.
So while engineers worked on the vehicle — and could have launched a production version as early as 2016, according to Krickelberg — its momentum stalled within the company. An entirely new generation of 911 launched in 2020, requiring the Dakar project to change and fit the new platform.
Eventually, the two sides found common ground. Executives increased production plans from 2,000 to 2,500 units, reduced development costs and settled on a starting price of $223,450 including destination. And an optional Rallye Design Package adds historic racing graphics for a cool $28,470.
There was one more move that may have pushed the project across the goal line. According to Achim Lamparter, general project manager for the 911 Dakar, engineers invited the sales and marketing teams from their offices in Stuttgart to visit the development and testing center in nearby Weissach. There they would get to sample the 911 Dakar for themselves. Soon after, the project received final approval.
“Then they understand what we are talking about,” Lamparter told Edmunds.com. “It’s sometimes difficult for them to see on a piece of paper. It helps if they get directly put in the car.”
An Expanded Dakar Family?
Could the success of the 911 Dakar lead to similar models in the future? Some inside the company hope so. Porsche CEO Oliver Blume has left the possibility open depending on 911 Dakar sales.
The Macan and Cayenne SUVs are obvious candidates to receive off-roading treatment, though rally versions of other models like the Taycan EV could also be in play. One thing is for certain: the 911 is the only one that will carry the Dakar name.
In that case, what other names could Porsche consider? Krickelberg laughed.
“Maybe we ask Tata again,” he said.
Many thought the name "911 Safari" was a certainty ahead of the car's debut, and the change to "911 Dakar" came as a surprise. Now we know why it happened. This special 911 variant is full of mystique and history, and the internal story of how it came to life is as interesting as the car itself.