Volkswagen Group-owned Bentley ‘s global sales, which peaked at around 10,000 in 2007 before the financial crash the following year, are climbing back up again, said Geoff Dowding, regional director, UK, Middle East and Asia.
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 sales and needs to be “back at 10,000 and beyond”.
The USA and China take 60% of all sales between them, said Dowding. “Five years ago China was just 3% of our business,” he said.
Sales of the Continental are up 25% in the USA this year at just over 1,000.
“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.”
That reputation is important since between 30% and 40% of Chinese customers buy a Bentley on the recommendation of friends, he said.
“We build the brand quietly, slowly and in an understated way using the media a lot,” said Dowding.
It’s an approach that has worked so far. Sales in China, where Bentley was among the first luxury car entrants alongside the likes of Porsche at the turn of the century, were 21 cars in the first year. Last year the tally was 1,664.
But there are unexpected challenges to this global growth. A Bentley is, generally, a bespoke purchase with buyers happy to wait six to eight months for delivery as every detail on the car is made to their specification.
But the Chinese, Russians and, to a lesser extent, American buyers want to drive their cars out of the showroom immediately. Second guessing the right specifications for stock cars adds another challenge to globalisation.