Now in its third generation, the Porsche Cayenne is undoubtedly one of the most important models of the brand in its modern history. Originally launched 20 years ago, the luxury SUV had the mission to save the Stuttgart-based company from bankruptcy – and thankfully, it achieved its goal – after a difficult first half of the 1990s.

But before the Cayenne hit the market, the automaker had five different vehicle concepts on the table for what is now known as the “third Porsche.” In the end, only a luxury MPV and a premium SUV were seriously considered.

The second idea had more advocates and Porsche decided to launch a fast, performance-oriented SUV. The marque was looking for a partner to develop this new model and initially, it contacted Mercedes-Benz, which was due to launch the first ML in 1997. “At that stage, we envisioned the Porsche SUV as a high-performance offshoot of the Mercedes,” Klaus-Gerhard Wolpert, VP for the Cayenne from 1998 to 2010, explains “with its own exterior design, a lot of M-Class technology, but engines and chassis components from us.”

Gallery: Original Porsche Cayenne development

The cooperation between the two companies was making good progress in 1996 but eventually reached the end of the road before the end of the year. Mercedes and Porsche had “differing ideas about the two companies’ economic relationship” and a new partner was needed to help Porsche finish the project. That partner was based in Wolfsburg, and while Porsche and Volkswagen were not yet members of the same automotive group, the execs from VW saw huge potential in the project and decided “they could use a car like this.”

A few months later, in June 1997, Porsche and Volkswagen joined forces to design what was then known internally as the Colorado project – two large luxury SUVs based on a Porsche platform. The engineers from Stuttgart were responsible for the development and Volkswagen had to cover the production of the two models. The two large SUVs shared body components, but never shared powertrains – no Porsche engine was ever used in the Touareg and vice versa. Porsche’s first five-seater was unveiled at the 2002 Paris Motor Show, some four years after the initial decision was taken. The rest, as they say, is history.