With the upcoming launch of its first SUV, the Bentayga, Bentley hopes to not only get a leg up on competitors like Rolls-Royce but also kick off the biggest growth spurt in the British brand’s history.
But Bentley is far from through with the expansion of its line-up, stressed its CEO Wolfgang Durheimer. The brand is readying a business case for its next all-new model, a sports car based on the EXP 10 Speed 6 concept that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show last March.
“It’s double-digit growth we’re approaching,” said Durheimer during an interview at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance over the weekend. If Bentley meets its target that would be all the more impressive considering it set a sales record last year with its existing line-up.
Preparation work for the Bentayga is now underway at the Bentley factory in Crewe, a small number of pre-production prototypes already rolling down the assembly line, Durheimer noted. The maker clearly wants to get the SUV out on the market well ahead of a flurry of ultra-luxury SUVs to follow from the likes of Rolls, Aston Martin and even Lamborghini.
“I forecast for 18 to 24 months we will have no competition,” said Durheimer. But he also expects that even when it does become a battle in the marketplace there will be more than enough demand from the world’s one-percenters to absorb all the new SUVs coming to market at a price tag over $150,000.
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Global sales of vehicles over that price tag hit a record 54,000 in 2014, but the market overall is rapidly growing.
Meanwhile, “The SUV (segment) is becoming the biggest in the world,” said Durheimer, who previously served as top engineer for sibling brand Porsche. Demand should be particularly strong, he predicts, in places like Russia, China, the Middle East and other markets that may face bad weather or suffer from poor roads.
Durheimer did acknowledge that the unexpected slowdown in the Chinese market could be trouble for Bentley – and other luxury makers. “Of course,” he said, “it worries me.” China was on its way to becoming the number one market for Bentley, but the U.S. is now firmly in the lead, and the recovering European market has also overtaken China as the Asian nation’s economy slows down.
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The new Bentley Bentayga will join the top-line Mulsanne and the various models built off the Continental platform – which Durheimer called “the backbone” of the brand. But the Volkswagen AG subsidiary also plans to add a “fairly aggressive, state-of-the-art sports car,” based on the EXP 10 Speed 6 concept which, he said, “will make a different company out of Bentley Motors.”
For the moment, the production version of the EXP 10 has not been approved, Durheimer stressing that a formal business case needed to win funding from VW AG accountants has yet to be completed.
“The business case needs to be rounded up with solid market analysis,” and the overall numbers that will show it can be successful, he cautioned, adding that, for the moment, “We’re not in a rush,” because the brand’s “first focus” is on a successful launch of the Bentayga.
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