Parent group Volkswagen has green-lighted ultra-luxury Bentley division’s first sport-utility vehicle, venturing beyond its tradition of sleek, growling Gran Turismo road cars in a move that could unsettle automobile purists.
The new model, billed as the world's most expensive SUV, will be built at the Bentley headquarters in Crewe, rather than in Bratislava as speculated earlier, with first deliveries scheduled for 2016. The project will involve more than £800 million (R12 billion) of investment over the next three years and will create more than 1000 jobs in the UK, Europe's second-largest auto market.
Bentley aims to replicate the success that Porsche has had with the Cayenne SUV, launched more than a decade ago and now making up half the sports-car maker's global sales.
The move towards off-roaders is aimed at boosting profitability at Bentley, which accounted for no more than one percent of the VW group's first-quarter earnings of €2.34 billion (R30 billion).
Frankfurt-based analyst Tim Schuldt said: “SUVs continue to be in high demand and Porsche has shown that plush sport-utility vehicles have great potential.”
But the big Bentley may face competition from VW stable mate Lamborghini, which recently won the backing of parent Audi to launch the Urus SUV in 2017, Maserati's Jeep-based Kubang and Land Rover's Range Rover Sport.
The moves by Bentley and Lamborghini have dismayed some automobile fans, who fear that the push into four-by-fours betrays their history and will dilute the brands' exclusivity.
Bentley is known for sleek models with a racing pedigree. Its redesigned Flying Spur has a six-litre, 12-cylinder engine generating 455kW and a top speed of 320km/h.
It is targeting annual sales of 3000-4000 SUVs, selling for more than €150 000 (R1.9 million) each - a key factor in Bentley’s plans to almost double worldwide deliveries to 15 000 cars a year by 2018.
VW says it has had “extremely positive” feedback on the SUV from customers in the past 16 months. - Reuters