Bentley, the British manufacturer of ultra-luxury cars favored by the Queen of England, may add a fifth model to its lineup after rolling out the world’s priciest sport-utility vehicle in 2016.
“It needs to be a solid statement in terms of luxury and performance,” to safeguard Bentley’s exclusive brand cachet, Wolfgang Duerheimer, head of the Volkswagen AG unit, said today at a press conference in London. “It needs to be a performer.”
The new Bentley would be part of a wider push by Volkswagen, Europe’s largest automaker, to expand in lucrative premium cars, with brands including Audi, Porsche and Lamborghini. VW gave Bentley final approval last year to build an SUV that may cost about 180,000 euros ($243,000), allowing the luxury brand to expand beyond sedans and coupes.
The SUV coming in two years is critical to Volkswagen’s goal to almost double Bentley sales to 15,000 vehicles by 2018. It mimics the strategy followed by VW’s Porsche, which flanked its sports cars with the Cayenne, now the brand’s best-seller. Porsche added a compact SUV called the Macan earlier this year.
The Bentley SUV will complement a lineup that comprises the Continental GT coupe and convertible, and Flying Spur and Mulsanne sedans. A potential fifth model could be placed “in between” the Continental and the more expensive Mulsanne, Duerheimer said. Another option is a two-seater.
“I didn’t take a position yet, but our designers are extremely busy right now preparing designs for potential alternatives,” the CEO said. A decision will come after the SUV is on the road, he added.
The SUV is based on a prototype that was presented at the Geneva motor show in 2012. While the model has been modified since, the concept car sported flourishes like picnic hampers for polo-ground tailgating, 23-inch wheels and gaping turbine-like air intakes.
The SUV’s front-end will be the biggest difference to the concept car, Duerheimer said today. A version with a large 12-cylinder engine will be available first and a hybrid version may be offered.
The new Bentley will compete with vehicles like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, the Mercedes-Benz GL63 AMG, and the top-of-the-line Range Rover from Tata Motors Ltd.’s Jaguar Land Rover business in the U.K.
Duerheimer, a 56-year-old trained engineer, returned to Bentley as chairman and chief executive last month after heading development at Audi for less than a year. He previously worked at Volkswagen’s Bugatti and Porsche brands, after starting his career at Bayerische Motoren Werke AG.
Bentley said it plans to spend more than 800 million pounds ($1.36 billion) developing the SUV and other models, as well as upgrading its headquarters in Crewe, England. The price estimation for the SUV stems from past comments from company executives, and would make it the world’s most expensive vehicle of that type.