The importance of Volkswagen Group-owned Bentley introducing a third model alongside the Continental GT and Mulsanne is to give stability to its product lifecycle, said Geoff Dowding, regional director, UK, Middle East and Asia.
Speaking to just-auto at the launch of the Continental GT Speed, the company’s fastest road car to date, Dowding said the first generation GT, launched in 2003, reached a peak around 2007; the second generation car, heavily revised in 2010, will peak soon – boosted by the arrival of the GBP151,000 (US$242,000) Speed.
Enter the SUV concept, shown at this year’s Geneva motor show where it attracted a huge amount of media interest, not all of it complimentary.
It was deliberately provocative, said Dowding. “The idea of a Bentley SUV is universally accepted,” he said. “It’s the execution of it that is the issue.”
Since Geneva, the concept has been through customer clinics where it has performed well. It started the debate on how a Bentley SUV could look, said Dowding. “We are now at the latter stages of decision making.”
Even without a third model, Bentley’s global sales, which peaked at around 10,000 in 2007 before the financial crash the following year, are climbing back up again.
Sales in the first nine months of this year were 6,000 against 4,800 in the same period last year and the company expects to end the year at around 8,000.
The USA and China take 60% of all Bentley sales between them, said Dowding. “Five years ago China was just 3% of our business,” he said.
“We now have 166 dealers in 54 countries and we’re growing; new markets are important.”
Bentley has been present in India since 2003 “but we’re not sure how it will grow so we are strengthening our roots there for when the luxury market expands.”
Bentley moved into Brazil two years ago and is now looking at setting up in Chile. Next on Dowding’s list are the Philippines and Vietnam. “They are small markets but we need to establish a foothold to build the brand and the reputation – 30-40% of Chinese buyers buy a Bentley on the recommendation of friends so reputation is important.
“We build the brand quietly, slowly and in an understated way using the media a lot,” he said.
It’s an approach that has worked so far. Sales in China, where Bentley was the first luxury entrant alongside Porsche at the turn of the century, were 21 cars in the first year.
Last year sales reached 1,664.