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The newest Porsche is the Macan SUV, which arrived at U.S. dealers earlier this year. Sales have been very strong. Source: Porsche.

How big a deal is the new Macan SUV to Porsche?

This big: In just four months on the U.S. market, year-to-date sales of the Macan have already outpaced those of the company's Panamera sedan.

Sure, the Panamera is Porsche's slowest-selling model in the U.S. But it's not exactly dead in the water: Sales are up 13.5% this year.

Porsche's overall U.S. sales are up 12%, thanks in no small part to its newest SUV. And that's a big deal for Porsche's corporate parent, the Volkswagen Group (NASDAQOTH:VLKAY).

The Porsche of crossover SUVs
The new Macan has expanded Porsche's presence in the booming global market for luxury crossover SUVs. Based on the mechanical underpinnings of Audi's popular Q5, but with a long list of Porsche-specific refinements, the Macan has already proven very popular. Porsche doesn't release global sales figures for individual models, but the Macan trailed only the popular Cayenne SUV and the iconic 911 in U.S. sales last month.

But how much profit can a small SUV contribute to Porsche, whose customers often pay well into six figures for their dream rides? Quite a bit, it turns out: The Macan starts at $49,900 in the U.S., but as with other Porsches, the starting price doesn't really tell the story. 

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The Macan can be ordered with a lavish interior -- but you'll pay for it. Source: Porsche.

Porsches are offered with very long options lists. Porsche says this allows customers -- who may be buying their dream vehicle -- to tailor their new car exactly the way they want. And it's true: Porsches can be customized much more extensively than most other brands' offerings.

But those long options lists are also a source of tremendous profits for Porsche. They often include equipment that comes standard on rival brands' models, such as LED taillights ($550), heated seats ($525), adaptive cruise control ($1,600), and on and on. It adds up fast: According to data from Edmunds, average transaction prices for the Macan in the U.S. have been hovering right around $68,000 in the four months it has been on sale here. 

The top-line model, the Macan Turbo, can be optioned up to a sticker price over $100,000. Consider that the mechanically similar Audi Q5 starts at $38,900, and you start to see just how profitable the Macan is for Porsche.

Porsche is a very profitable part of the VW Group
Porsche doesn't need to sell a lot of vehicles to post a handsome profit. In fact, Porsche's sales volumes are just a drop in the global bucket: Through August, Porsche sold about 120,000 vehicles worldwide. (For perspective, Ford sold about 68,000 F-Series pickups in the U.S. just last month.)

But Porsche's contribution to VW's bottom line is much bigger than you'd think from its sales numbers. Porsches sell at high prices, and those prices include a lot of profit.

Porsches made up just 1.8% of the vehicles sold by the VW Group in the first half of 2014, but Porsche contributed over 29% of the operating profits generated by the Group from passenger car sales. 

Why? Because Porsches generate big profits. The brand's operating margin in the first half of the year was just over 17%, absolutely massive for an automaker, and well ahead of the 14.4% margin posted last quarter by Fiat Chrysler's Ferrari brand.

For a long time, the biggest contributor to Porsche's bottom line was its Cayenne SUV. The Cayenne, a mechanical sibling of the Audi Q7 and Volkwagen Touareg, made up as much as half of Porsche's global sales in recent years -- and a big chunk of VW's strong profits.

But the Cayenne is a big SUV. Porsche executives, sensing that there was a market for a smaller SUV -- and seeing the success of Audi's one-size-down Q5 -- developed the Macan as an alternative for its customers. 

It's also a way for Porsche to draw new customers to the brand: Porsche Cars North America CEO Detlev von Platen said last summer that he expects about 80% of Macan buyers to be first-time Porsche customers.

So far, the Macan seems to be working well for Porsche.

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.