True, it is far from the biggest surprise but Bentley has now given the formal go-ahead for production of its new premium-luxury SUV, the as yet-unnamed addition to its line-up slated to reach showrooms around the world in 2016.
The pet project of former Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer, the new ute will be based on the EXP 9 F concept vehicle revealed during the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. In a statement, the British subsidiary of Volkswagen AG announced plans to invest more than 800 million British pounds – or more than $1.2 billion – over the next three years for “the development of new models.”
“Bentley fans all around the world are looking forward to the brand’s first SUV,” proclaimed VW Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, adding that, “Together we will make this new Bentley another true Bentley – powerful, exclusive and successful.”
A sketch of the planned SUV suggests Bentley has tweaked the design of the EXP 9 F prototype. If the rendering is close to the final shape it would mean the production model has a bit lower and more sporty roof line, with a more sculpted silhouette. It is difficult to tell, however, what the maker has in mind for some of the more controversial elements of the concept vehicle, particularly the oversized combination of air intakes and LED fog lamps melded into the front bumper.
Few details are being revealed, so it’s unclear if the new Bentley ute will feature two or three rows. It will almost certainly be offered with the new Bentley V-8 though the classic 12-cylinder engine could be in the offing, as well.
What’s all but certain, based on recent comments by Bentley officials, is that they will offer a planned plug-in hybrid powertrain as an option with the premium-luxury SUV. That would be critical if the marque were to stick with its goal of slashing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
A plug-in drivetrain would be “a technology fit for Bentley,” the maker’s tech chief Rold Frech told TheDetroitBureau.com during an interview at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. Frech cautioned that specifics of the utes drivetrain options were still being worked out — and when asked if the SUV could even go with a V-6, Frech said, “If it is necessary for the legislative side, why not?”
(For more on Bentley’s plug-in plans, Click Here.)
Following the introduction of the EXP 9 F concept last year, TheDetroitBureau.com noted that Bentley insiders were suggesting a sales target of as much as 3,500 to 5,000 of the luxury SUVs annually. At the high end, Durheimer noted at the time, that could match or exceed the total volume of all the variations off the maker’s lower-end Continental platform, including the GT coupe, GTC convertible and Flying Spur sedan.
Bentley officials have been surprisingly candid about their desire to bring the SUV to market since the concept was unveiled in March 2012. The success of the Cayenne luxury ute sold by sibling VW division Porsche, as well as the many SUV packages in the BMW and Mercedes-Benz line-ups have only further whetted Bentley’s appetite for a crossover-based truck.
The one detail that appears to have changed since this past March is the decision to wait until sometime in 2016 to bring the new Bentley SUV to market. At the most recent Geneva Motor Show, company officials had suggested that would happen by late 2015.
The decision to produce the new ute in the U.K. will mean 1,000 new jobs at the plant in Crewe, Bentley noted, a key reason by the country’s Prime Minister David Cameron attended the announcement this morning.
Comments at the event, as well as a Bentley news release did leave a few other questions hanging in the air. For one thing, the maker referred to the SUV as its “fourth model line,” and while that may be a matter of semantics, most analysts consider the maker as currently having just two lines. Is there yet another surprise coming?
The fact that the maker says it will develop additional “new models” certainly suggests that others will be following the SUV to market. Former Bentley chief Franz-Josef Paefgen had long hoped to introduce another passenger car line priced below the Continental series. That project was set aside by his successor, Durheimer, who focused on the luxury ute. It’s quite possible an “entry” Bentley may yet make it into the product plans.
(Former Bentley boss Durheimer in limbo after executive shake-up. Click Here for details.)
Tags: Martin Winterkorn, auto news, bentley news, bentley plug-in hybrid, bentley suv, bentley ute, car news, luxury crossover, luxury plug-in hybrid, luxury suv, paul a. eisenstein, paul eisenstein, thedetroitbureau, vw news