So what does the near future hold for the brand? We sat down with Bentley's president and COO, Christophe Georges, to find out.
The Bentley SUV
The EXP 9 F concept SUV shown at last year's Geneva Motor Show was met with widespread derision over some of its aesthetic choices, though we found the overall shape, and certainly the interior, to be right on the mark.
Bentley has recognized the concept's controversial nature, but says that's what a concept is supposed to do--drum up discussion to help gauge interest in the idea, not necessarily the design. As Georges put it, "It was the first time in our history that we showed a concept, because we are entering into a new market segment. It was important for us to gauge the interest."
As for whether the Bentley SUV will actually be built, it's basically a foregone conclusion, though the company is still reviewing the business case and awaiting final approval. "The decision to go ahead with it, we expect it to come quite soon. We are still reviewing the business case, etc., but we are very confident in the business case of the SUV," said Georges.
Bentley's largest market is currently the United States (though China is growing quickly), and it expects the SUV to sell well in America. "The SUV would predominantly satisfy American consumers, and Chinese consumers as well," said Georges. "Russia and Europe would do well too, but it is not the same scale ... America is clearly a great market for SUVs, in all categories."
But will the SUV steal buyers away from Bentley's other models? Perhaps, but Georges also sees the SUV as an additive element, as well as capable of reaching into new markets currently untapped by the brand's sedans, coupes, and convertibles.
Bentley's EXP 9 F SUV concept
There won't, however, be another concept to further gauge potential customer reactions. "Today we are currently working on the business case. There is no plan for another concept to be shown. We have done our studies, we have to have final confirmation, and once we receive that, we are going to move on our final car," said Georges.
As for pricing on the Bentley SUV, it's still too early to put a number on it, but Georges says, "It will be consistent with our existing range. The SUV will be a Bentley interpretation of what an SUV should be."
The Next Flying Spur
2014 Bentley Continental Flying Spur V8 spy shots
Georges, however, said the Flying Spur is not currently a priority. "It's too early to speak about it. We are launching this car [the Continental GT Speed Convertible], we have shown our SUV concept, we have shown our GT3. We have to digest all of that, and later on we will speak of things, but it is too early."
The implication was that the Flying Spur refresh won't be on the table before 2014.
On Moving Down-Market
The idea of a smaller, even sportier Bentley is intriguing. As Jaguar and Aston Martin encroach on space that could be seen as nearing Bentley with ever-more-luxurious high-performance grand tourers, might there be a place for Bentley to move slightly down-market, or to at least offer a smaller car, to compete with these cars, and potentially grow volume even further?
No, says Georges. "To go smaller, no, this is not part of our plans. I think we have established our position quite well in the market. We do not have any intention to go below [our current model range]. We can have a horizontal move within the segment, but we don't need to go below vertically."
Bentley's Racing Program
Bentley Continental GT3 race car concept
As we already know, the brand will begin testing of the car later this year, with a full-scale customer race program and works-supported team for the 2014 season. But how strong is interest in the Continental GT3 race car?
"Interest in the car is picking up," said Georges. "A lot of teams are contacting us. If you think about the sponsors, associating your name with a Bentley in GT3 is very interesting."