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VW edict to Bentley: start selling!

Contabrio: GoAuto artist Norm Robinson's vision of a Continental convertible.

New Continental GT coupe sales must drive new car development

20 Nov 2003

BENTLEY Motors’ plans to develop a convertible version of the Continental GT depend on the sales performance of the exciting new coupe and the saloon that will spin from it.

The all-wheel drive W12 coupe is on sale this month in Bentley’s UK home market, with a few examples expected to reach Australia before the end of 2003.

The saloon version of Continental – codenamed BY611 - is under development and is expected to be revealed in late 2004 in time for a 2005 on-sale date.

But the coupe, the saloon and redevelopment work at Bentley’s Crewe factory has swallowed the 500 million pounds parent Volkswagen threw at the company after buying it from Vickers in 1998.

That has prompted an edict from the VW board – go and sell some cars and generate cash flow if you want to build convertible.

Bentley would like to have a convertible Continental on sale in three years and styling mock-ups have been completed.

"We have to now get into the process of marketing and show we are delivering on this range in order to fight for the funding for the product development," said Adrian Hallmark, Bentley Motors' member of the board for sales and marketing, during a recent visit to Australia.

"It (Continental GT) is crying out for a convertible and the styling looks stunning. And it works with that overall styling concept. But we have to generate some funds first, it has to be self-funded." The replacement for the Arnage will also have to be self-funded, although a new generation big car is between four and six years away as Bentley awaits the evolution of mandatory technical and safety legislation worldwide.

It seems Mr Hallmark and his team have a good chance of finding the cash for a convertible, if interest in GT is anything to go by.

Bentley will build 3500 GTs in 2004 but there are already 6000 orders in the bank, including 230 from Australia.

Worldwide the delivery numbers in the next 12 months should be something like 1500 into the UK, 900 to North America, 700 in Europe and 400 in Asia-Pacific.

The US launches around April 2004, while the Middle East and Africa won’t get cars until some months after that.

Bentley is in the curious position of having the two executives who once tussled over it and Rolls-Royce – Ferdinand Piech and Bernd Pischetsrieder – now running it. Mr Piech is in charge of the VW supervisory board while Mr Pischetsrieder is the management board chairman.

When Mr Pischetsrieder was at BMW he was seen to have outflanked Mr Piech in gaining Rolls-Royce at a cut price while Mr Piech paid big bucks for Bentley.

Mr Hallmark says both men are now devoted to the future of Bentley – although their emotions do not over-rule their heads.

"They are passionate about the brand," Mr Hallmark said. "They want to do everything we want to do and more sometimes, but neither of them can find a way to fund it (future models).

"Neither has a magic wand, neither can say ‘here’s the money’. We have got to generate it, because there are other needs within the group and 500 million pounds is already a lot of support.

"We have a very clear view between all of the board, unity absolutely about what Bentley is, what it was and what it should be.

"The only gap is how much money we have to realise that vision. The will is there and as long as we deliver on this and the saloon then. I’m confident that in the next round of planning, or in the next one after that, we will have the confidence and the excess cash flow to be able to fund our own development.

"And that’s the key. Simple as that. It’s a real business, it’s not some benevolent fund that has to be continually subsidised."

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