Volkswagen is planning to expand production of Bentley cars, the Financial Times reported.

VW, which has owned the Group for three years, expects to boost production levels from 2,000 to 9,000 per year over the next three years via a £600 million ($US890 million) investment programme.

Quoting Bentley Motor Cars chief executive Tony Gott, the FT said that Bentley does not see 9,000 a year as a "limiting factor." Gott added that further expansion could be undertaken "without taking Bentley down market."

Around £500m is already being invested in new models, and nearly £100m on installing new research, development, engineering facilities alongside doubling the size of assembly buildings. Employment is set to rise by between 1,000 and 3,500 over the next two to three years at the Bentley factory in Crewe, Cheshire, the FT said.

Executives at the luxury car-maker, which currently builds both Rolls-Royce and Bentley models, are said to be considering other niches of the global car market in which Bentley could compete. Areas reported to be under consideration include very high performance "supercars" and luxurious four-wheel drive recreational vehicles.

Engineering Group Vickers sold Bentley to VW three years ago as the largest part of its Rolls Royce purchase for £478m.

However, Rolls-Royce Aerospace owns the brand name Rolls-Royce not Vickers, and has licensed the name to Germany's BMW to use from January 1, 2003. Production of the Rolls Royce will cease at Crewe next year, with BMW set to build an all-new Rolls-Royce at a Greenfield factory in Sussex, south-east England, for a launch pencilled in at the start of 2003, says the FT.