Bentley celebrates its centennial with special gear, new lineup
Oct. 04, 2019
Bentley, the British ultraluxury brand that turned 100 this year, has a slew of products to commemorate the milestone.
They include pens that start at more than $500 , sunglasses for $895 and even a set of golf clubs that costs as much as a small sedan .
And for a customer base that can afford to spend $500 on a pen instead of a car payment, Bentley has a number of new vehicles after a dry spell for the brand in the key U.S. market.
Except for the flagship Mulsanne large sedan, every nameplate will have a redesign or at least one significant addition arriving in the U.S. in the next several months.
For a brand whose low volume and exclusivity normally keep it out of the spotlight, Bentley is relishing the extra attention created by its centennial and product overhaul.
"What we have just done is the total replacement of our traditional lineup, plus with an SUV on top," Christophe Georges, CEO of Bentley Motors, the brand's Americas unit, told Automotive News .
The third-generation Continental GT coupe and convertible with V-8s are arriving at dealerships, to be followed soon by the more powerful W-12 variants. Europe will have to wait until the first quarter of 2020 for these models.
Bentley's Bentayga, a pioneer in the bustling ultraluxury and exotic SUV segment, will have two new variants on sale soon. The Bentayga plug-in hybrid , which is already on sale in Europe, is the brand's first foray into electrification and will arrive in the U.S. early next year.
On the other end of the SUV's lineup is the high-performance Bentayga Speed , which will be arriving by year end in the U.S. and Europe.
Rounding out the product rush is a redesigned Flying Spur sedan , which arrives in early 2020 in U.S. and European markets.
Bentley has positioned the redesigned version above the outgoing Flying Spur to further differentiate the nameplate from the AMG and Maybach versions of the Mercedes-Benz S class.
The big change to its lineup should bode well for the brand and bring attention to Bentley overall, said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book.
"They're really well positioned because as an ultraluxury brand, it's not common for them to have as wide a spectrum of models that they offer, as well as so many new ones in such a short time frame," Brauer said. "It's definitely going to be a very high-profile, high-visibility next 12-plus months for the brand."
The influx of redesigned products is evident.
"The introduction of Continental GT and convertible is creating, from this month, a surge in our business," Georges said in a phone interview.
Georges, named to his post last year after being Bentley's global director of product and marketing, is in his second stint running the Americas region , having held the same title from 2007-15.
For Bentley, the surge has been a long time coming.
The redesigned Continental GT was unveiled in August 2017 ahead of its auto show debut a month later in Frankfurt.
But new European emissions regulations created certification delays for the brand, so instead of launching the redesigned nameplate with a W-12, Bentley is launching the Continental GT coupe and convertible with a V-8 in the U.S.
That delay meant Bentley's 51 U.S. dealerships were without the latest and best of one of the brand's most pivotal products.The impact was significant over the last 12 months. Instead of the U.S. being Bentley's No. 1 market, Europe became its sales leader.
"But now that [the Continental GT coupe and convertible] are coming into the marketplace, America will be back to this No. 1 position for Bentley," Georges said.
The Continental GT, introduced in 2003, has been a sales success for the brand. With the latest redesign, now on a new platform, Bentley focused on performance and technology.
"Dealers were waiting for Continental products to land in the market because they had customers waiting for those cars," Georges said. "They've been quite impatient to get the car, but I really understand. We were impatient, too. But from the start of the year, we had good clarity of when this introduction would happen and therefore, we've been able to join forces and work together in order to confirm the introduction timing plan to customers and to book allocations for them."
Georges said Bentley and its retailers spent the first half of this year preparing for the Continental GT's arrival.
Apollo Chang, general manager at Bentley of Austin in Texas, credits the automaker with keeping dealers and customers interested in the nameplate through display and test-drive events for the Continental GT lineup.
"It was not easy because customers wanted it and it was overdue, but at the same time I would say Bentley has done everything they could to try to maintain that relationship with customers and dealers," Chang said.
He said his store expects to sell four to five Continental GTs a month, now that the models are arriving.
"That would be pretty significant considering the average gross profit for these cars," Chang said, noting that around half of the Continental GTs headed to his store are custom orders.
The Continental GT coupe with a V-8 starts at $201,225, including shipping.
"It's kind of like Porsche and the 911," Brauer said. "Even though the 911 isn't the bestselling car, it's still the most identifiable vehicle for that brand, and I think the same is true of Continental GT within Bentley. Its level of success of the last 15 years is unquestioned. ... They've done important upgrades to its mechanicals and its structure, but they have not lost the original look and feel proportions that it succeeded with."
Bentley also found a way for its products, including the Continental GTs, to get in on the centennial celebration.
Each Bentley manufactured in 2019 receives "centenary specification" design touches marking the brand's 100th year, including a gold metallic finish around the "B" in the badge on the hood, rear and wheels. The years 1919 and 2019 are on the door tread plates as well as on the hood and rear badges.
The "B" logos on the steering wheel, gear shifter and the vehicle's key also get the metallic gold detail.
While much of the product spotlight is on the Continental GTs, interest in the Bentayga SUV has remained strong, especially after the addition of a V-8-powered version late last year and despite new SUV offerings from Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce.
"Following the introduction of other luxury brand SUVs, so far, our Bentayga sales in America have increased this year by 35 percent," said Georges, noting that the U.S. is the largest market for the Bentayga.
During the pause in Bentley's product rollout, the Bentayga picked up the slack.
"The Bentayga has done a great job carrying us through," Chang said, "because we sell about three to four Bentaygas a month."
With a starting price of around $158,000, or 141,100 euros in Europe, the plug-in Bentayga Hybrid will be the brand's lowest-priced model. It also has expanded the reach of the brand's portfolio overall.
Said Georges: "Now we have a product lineup with a very high level of technology but still being totally consistent with what makes a Bentley a Bentley, which is a perfect combination between sports and luxury attributes, which is simply unique as a proposition in the marketplace."
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