Returning chairman and CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer says the company is laying plans either for a two-seat sports car or a more conventional model priced between Continental and Mulsanne, possibly a convertible.
"My own preference would be to build them both" he said, "provided a business case for each can be made." However, the company would concentrate first on whichever alternative looked more profitable.
Dürheimer left Bentley two and a half years ago to become Audi’s technical chief, but left abruptly after what he calls “differences of opinion”. He returned to Crewe two months ago, resume command of the promising SUV and GT3 racing programmes, both begun on his previous watch.
Dürheimer gave few details of the post-SUV models under investigation, but admitted his affection for the 1995 Azure convertible, from which a Brooklands coupé could easily be spun.
The previous Azure was a rear-drive design spun off the Continental R, but a future version would more likely be related to the four-wheel drive Continental model line. Four-wheel drive and W12 engines will both be “core technologies” for Bentley’s future, he said.
Broadly, the two-seater idea recalls the mid-engined, Lamborghini-based Hunaudiéres built as a concept for the 1999 Geneva Show. It would most likely be related to the Audi R8 under its skin, with an entirely different look and perhaps with the revised W12 in place of the present V10.
Preliminary planning for the two post-SUV models is included in a new R&D spending round, the largest in Bentley’s 95-year history. The company plans to spend £800 million between now and 2016 on new model development, mostly in Crewe.
At a press conference In London to announce bullish half-year sales, Dürheimer said he expected 2014 to be "a fifth straight year of substantial growth" but stopped short of claiming a record.
Sales had grown in every market, he said, with China scoring the greatest first-half growth of 61 per cent, though that rate of improvement was unlikely to be sustained for the full year. The US was Bentley's biggest market, with sales of 1388 cars.
Dürheimer foreshadowed a radical new move to "contemporise" its cars, providing modern alternatives to the traditionalist wood, leather and tasteful colours so often associated with its cars. “We want acid green to be in our palette, as well as British Racing Green,” he said.
A recently opened modern, glassy showroom at Crewe provided a guide to dealerships around the world to modernise their own customer centres, while ushering in the upgrades needed for the arrival of the SUV which could push volume beyond the 15,000 units a year already announced.
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