Luxury British carmaker Bentley is betting on a new sport utility vehicle to build on the success of its Flying Spur saloon that drove sales to a record high in 2013.
Bentley, owned by Germany's Volkswagen, sold 10 120 ultra-luxury saloons, coupés and convertibles last year, 19 percent more than the previous year and beating a previous high set in 2007, as demand from the Americas outweighed shrinking deliveries in China.
Bentley's chairman and chief executive Wolfgang Schreiber said on Wednesday: “We continue to be very successful in winning new customers and are confident that 2014 will be another successful year.”
The new generation of the Flying Spur saloon, rolled out in 2013, and a convertible version of the Continental GT Speed coupé, introduced in late 2012, helped boost business.
Bentley aims to grow sales to 15,000 cars by 2018 and said a new SUV model which should be on the road within three years would help reach its target.
“They've said, ‘OK, I will buy it’.”
Schreiber told reporters at a media conference: “We are seeing 2000 pre-orders of that car from people who haven't seen the final design and have no idea of the price.
“That means there is demand and maybe we can create a new segment, a luxury SUV segment.”
Internal forecasts for Bentley's SUV model were for annual sales of the vehicle of at least 3000.
The new model will compete with the Range Rover and Porsche's Cayenne Turbo, Schreiber said.
Bentley, which says its average customer has seven or eight cars, defines the luxury market as cars worth more than €150 000 (R2.2 million) and estimates it had a 25 percent share of that market in 2013.
Sales in the Americas, Bentley's No. 1 market, surged 28 percent to 3140 cars while deliveries to China, its second biggest market, fell 2.8 percent to 2191, helped by an improvement in the fourth quarter when the Flying Spur became available there.
Chinese sales fell 17 percent in the first nine months of 2013 as a range of luxury brands including Lamborghini, LVMH and Burberry reported an abrupt cooling in demand for high-end goods in the country.
Marketing director Kevin Rose said the group was cautious on the outlook for 2014, although he was optimistic about growth in China in the longer term.
“I expect some growth for us because we didn't have the Flying Spur for all of last year but we will have it all of this year.
In his view, the challenges Bentley faces in China were that it was now seen as less acceptable to display wealth, and some of the country's richest people were migrating elsewhere.
Those individuals relocating maintained their appetite for Bentley, however.
“If you take places such as San Diego, Vancouver, a high proportion of our sales are to Chinese nationals,” Rose said.
Back at the company's factory in the northern English town of Crewe, a facility which used to make engines for the Spitfire fighter planes used during the Second World War, preparations are underway to start building the new SUV.
Schreiber the new model would create 400 new jobs at the factory, Schreiber said. - Reuters