Wealthy Chinese buyers and U.S. rebound may help Bentley double annual sales
Continental Europe, Russia are also target growth markets for brand
Duerheimer: China will be No. 1 market
Bentley aims to double its annual sales by 2017, helped by China's growing number of wealthy buyers, a rebounding U.S. economy and expansion into new markets, CEO Wolfgang Duerheimer told Automotive News Europe.
Duerheimer said China is likely to overtake America this year as Bentley's largest sales region.
"We are currently experiencing a boom in China, where our sales almost doubled to 1,839 vehicles in 2011. That made China Bentley's second-largest single market. It will likely advance into the No. 1 spot this year," the CEO said in an interview.
The reviving U.S. economy is also helping the Volkswagen-owned automaker. Bentley's American sales grew 32 percent to 2,021 vehicles last year.
Duerheimer said Bentley is aiming for annual sales of 15,000 within five years, up from 7,003 last year. The brand's all-time high was 10,014 sales in 2007 before the economic crisis struck.
"I am assuming a robust, double-digit growth for 2012. I expect growth of more than 10 percent for Bentley in China and the United States in 2012," he said.
Duerheimer, former r&d boss at Porsche, became Bentley CEO a year ago, succeeding Franz-Josef Paefgen, who retired.
Europe 'attack,' Russia potential
Duerheimer believes Bentley, which is based in Crewe, England, also has potential to increase sales in mainland Europe and in growth markets, such as Russia.
"In continental Europe, we have to sound the attack," he said. "We sold 1,187 units, or about 17 percent of our sales, in this region in 2011. With UK sales of 1,031 vehicles, we sold almost as many Bentleys in the UK as in mainland Europe."
Duerheimer said he expects "a tidy double-digit growth in mainland Europe, adding: "I am calling on our sales organization to exploit the undeniable potential in continental Europe to a much greater degree."
Bentley is working on a sales and marketing offensive to develop the brand's potential in new markets such as Russia, Duerheimer said. The brand is also expanding in India and South America.
Help from new SUV
The CEO said Bentley aimed for 15,000 annual sales with the brand's current lineup of the flagship Mulsanne sedan and the Continental car range. But the brand may be helped by a new SUV that could be launched within three years if parent VW gives the go-ahead. A decision is expected by the end of the year, Duerheimer said.
Bentley would make sure the timing of the SUV's launch would not clash with updates of its Continental range, which makes up nearly 90 percent of the brand's sales, he said.
Bentley "conservatively" expects annual global sales of 3,500 to 5,000 units of the SUV and at least 25,000 units over its lifecycle, the CEO said.
Bentley will add 25 dealers globally this year, including 10 new dealers in China. The brand has 161 dealers worldwide, with 40 in the United States, 15 in China and 60 in Europe.
If Bentley achieves its 15,000 sales target, it will add a second shift and 300 employees at its factory in Crewe, England. The company currently employs about 4,000 people in Crewe, including 500 temporary workers.