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Bentley Explores SUV With Demand Beyond Sultan of Brunei: Cars

Bentley Explores SUV With Demand Beyond Sultan of Brunei
The Bentley company logo sits on the bonnet of a Mulsanne automobile. Duerheimer is keen for the carmaker to tap growing demand for SUVs in the U.S., China and U.K. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Bentley Motors Ltd., whose customers include Queen Elizabeth II and the Sultan of Brunei, may expand its line-up with a sport-utility vehicle to satisfy appetite for bigger luxury models, two people familiar with the matter said.

Bentley Chief Executive Officer Wolfgang Duerheimer, who as Porsche development chief oversaw the sports-car maker’s push into SUVs in 2002, wants the 92-year-old British manufacturer to build an off-road model and has already discussed his plan with executives at parent Volkswagen AG, the people said, on condition they not be identified because the matter is private.

“The traditional perception of brands -- Bentley as the maker of large, luxurious sedans -- is open to expansion,” said Michael Tyndall, an analyst at Barclays Capital in London, adding that Bentley might be able to fetch a price of more than 120,000 euros for an SUV. “There appears to be customers out there who are willing to spend that much on a luxury SUV.”

Porsche AG, once best known for sports cars like the 911, now relies on the Cayenne SUV for half its deliveries. Porsche will add a second SUV in 2013 to capitalize on the model’s success, while Jaguar Land Rover is mulling a crossover vehicle. Aston Martin also says it’s not ruling out an SUV-type car.

Production of luxury SUVs, including the 58,000-euro ($83,000) Cayenne, the 75,000-euro Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and the 56,000-euro Range Rover Sport, is set to expand 15 percent to 481,000 vehicles in 2015 from 417,000 last year, according to research firm IHS Automotive. Automakers built 298,654 luxury SUVs in 2005, IHS said.

‘No Limits’

“The margins for these vehicles continue to be very high and may attract more players to the segment,” said Henner Lehne, a Frankfurt-based IHS analyst. “Customers in China and Russia usually opt for the specially-equipped versions, they’re under no limits.”

Crewe, England-based Bentley, part of Volkswagen’s stable of ultra-luxury brands including Lamborghini SpA and Bugatti, posted a 57 percent surge in six-month China sales to 680 cars. Duerheimer is keen for the carmaker to tap growing demand for SUVs in the U.S., China and U.K., Bentley’s three biggest markets, to further propel growth, the people said.

Bentley spokeswoman Benita von Maltzahn said there are “no concrete plans” for an SUV, declining to elaborate. VW spokesman Michael Brendel declined to comment.

The U.K. brand, which makes sedans, convertibles and coupes based on the Mulsanne and Continental model lines, says on its website that it takes 150 hours to build a Continental GT by hand and 400 hours to make an Arnage, predecessor of the flagship Mulsanne sedan. Steering wheels are double-stitched using two needles, with 15 hours needed to create one wheel. Every piece of glass in a Bentley is given its final polish with finely powdered pumice normally used to polish optical lenses.

‘Finest Handicraft’

“Bentleys are known for the finest handicraft,” said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany. “They’ll have to aim for an absolute top-end SUV to be true to their heritage.”

The Cayenne, Porsche’s best-selling model, accounted for half the Stuttgart, Germany-based carmaker’s 10,670 deliveries last month. Chinese customers wait an average of 15 months for delivery of the version with a 3.0-liter engine.

Porsche, which charges 121,000 euros for the 500-horsepower Turbo version of the Cayenne, is planning to increase production of the model by 10 percent to 20 percent starting next year to try and meet demand, sales chief Bernhard Maier said on July 10.

Cayenne Popularity

“Porsche is very much a sports-car maker but many people would argue that the Cayenne has been the making of the company,” Tyndall said.

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, the world’s largest maker of luxury vehicles, is adding assembly of the X3 model to a factory in Chennai, India, while Daimler AG is spending more than $2 billion to boost capacity at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where M-, R- and GL-Class SUVs are made.

Volkswagen’s Audi division, which started selling the Q3 compact SUV last month, may add a fourth variant to its Q3, Q5 and Q7 lineup, sales chief Peter Schwarzenbauer said in a July 8 interview. Audi suspended summer holidays at its main Ingolstadt, Germany-based factory to maintain output of the Q5, and has extended around-the-clock production of its Q7 model at a VW plant in Bratislava, Slovakia, until the end of the year.

“We firmly expect this boom to continue and have a lot of creative ideas for the future,” Schwarzenbauer said. “The potential of the SUV market is huge.”

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