Bentley CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer has emphasised the need for Britain to secure a tariff-free trade deal with Europe, stating that a ‘worst case scenario’ could force the company to move to continental Europe.
Speaking to Reuters at the Geneva motor show, he said the brand’s British identity and Crewe production plant were key to its success, but that “before we would not produce any Bentleys anymore, we would produce them somewhere else”.
Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, is set to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon this month, allowing the UK to leave the European Union (EU). Bentley is among several brands pressuring her government to negotiate a deal whereby cars can be exported to Europe without incurring fees.
Europe is fast becoming Bentley’s biggest market, and access to technology and staff from its German parent company Volkswagen has been pivotal to its success.
Dürheimer said that Bentley employees would need to be able to travel freely around the continent without visas to remain competitive with Europe-based rivals. If the British Government is unable to confirm such a scenario, Bentley may be forced to take action.
"I have about nine to 12 months where I can wait and see what's going to happen and then I need to take serious decisions. It's all connected to future models," Dürheimer said.
Toyota also voiced its concerns over Brexit at the Geneva motor show, with executive vice president Didier Leroy telling Reuters that production of the next-generation Auris may be moved from Britain if tariffs are introduced.
“By 2018 probably we have to make some decision, but it doesn't mean to start the investment," he said, suggesting the Japanese manufacturer will decide whether to further invest in its Burnaston plant once Britain’s Brexit plans have been revealed.
Conversely, Opel/Vauxhall’s new owner, the PSA Group, has said that tariffs may leave its brands with a competitive advantage, because it could optimise its Vauxhall plants for British supply of PSA products and therefore avoid additional costs.
PSA boss Carlos Tavares said: “Car makers fear that leaving the European market will result in applied tariffs for exporting and importing vehicles to Great Britain.
"If Peugeot were to have a car plant in Britain, it would overcome such tariffs.”