Bentley CEO Dr Wolfgang Schreiber has confirmed that a decision on whether to put an SUV into production will be made “very soon”. And the new model could be built alongside the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg at the VW Group plant in Bratislava, rather than Crewe.
“The business case for this project is extremely strong. If we get the green light for this model we will enter the market in 2015/2016,” Schreiber explained at Bentley’s annual press conference. “You must understand the light never goes from red to green in one step, it changes gradually. Right now we are more or less completely green.”
“We already have 2,000 pre orders without customers knowing the price or the styling,” Schreiber told us. “Since the concept we have worked hard on the exterior and the interior, and the car is now ready for final development. It now looks much more like a Bentley and much more modern.”
The plan is to sell between 3,000 to 4,000 SUVs a year, making this new model a crucial part of Bentley’s plan to sell 15,000 cars a year by 2018 – that’s compared to 8,510 in 2012. Schreiber also revealed there will be a small overlap with Range Rover and Bentley in terms of price, suggesting a starting price of around £120,000.
Although a decision is yet to be made, one option for the production process is to assemble the hand-crafted interior components in Crewe, and ship them out to Bratislava for final assembly.
“We have to investigate the best solution for the Group. Capacity in Crewe or Bratislava is not an issue. It’s a case of taking into account the level of investment, labour rates and craftsmanship,” Jan Henrik-Lafrentz, head of finance, explained. “We expect a decision to be made within the next couple of months.”
Schreiber doesn't expect to have the ultra-luxury SUV segment to himself for very long though: “Competition is always good for the customer. We all know Rolls Royce is thinking about an SUV, Aston Martin is also considering one we all know about the Range Rover. There could even be some others that come along.”
If the SUV is given the green light in the coming months as Schreiber hopes, the biggest markets are expected to be the US and China - accounting for around 50 per cent of sales - with Russia and the Middle East close behind.
And Bentley's sales and marketing director, Kevin Rose, is confident that the SUV will be a showroom success: “Thirty per cent of our existing customers already have a high-end SUV, so if we can convince even a small amount of those into buying the car we have a very strong business case indeed.”