FRANKFURT - Bentley is launching a series of marketing initiatives to help support a major leap in sales as part of the Volkswagen Group.
The aim of the initiatives will be to position Bentley as an exclusive performance luxury brand seeking to lure wealthy customers out of their top-end Mercedes-Benz S-class, BMW 7 series or Audi A8 luxury sedans.
Bentley plans to grow from fewer than 2,000 annual sales now to about 9,000 sales in the next few years. Bentley will have to make the leap by itself, after nearly 70 years with Rolls-Royce. At the end of 2002 Rolls-Royce and Bentley will split. BMW will own Rolls-Royce and Volkswagen will own Bentley. For now, VW has custody of both, but its priorities clearly lie with Bentley, even though company officials say they will continue to market Rolls-Royce until they hand it over to BMW.
Among the first of those marketing initiatives will be a global used car program designed to bolster residual values and increase the pleasure of ownership, according to Adrian Hallmark, member of the board for sales and marketing at Rolls-Royce and Bentley.
'We will market used cars as we market new cars,' said Hallmark. 'We will promote them, we will market them. We will run events just for used cars. We will have specific finance programs for them, new and improved warranties, and peace of mind for customers. We will also have an Internet or wide area network stock locator program for our dealers.'
Hallmark did not say when the program will be rolled out. Officials stress the programs will apply to both Rolls-Royce and Bentley for as long as VW has custody of both.
In the UK, home market of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, resale values had plunged to the point where the company took the drastic step of withdrawing new cars temporarily from the market last April in order to prop up resale values. Hallmark stressed values dropped a similar amount for all luxury vehicles, not just Rolls-Royce and Bentley.
Hallmark said the step has paid off. Since being recently introduced in the UK market, resale values have regained 20 percent, he said.
Bentley also unveiled a new slogan to the world at the Frankfurt auto show: 'The Power of a Legend.' The slogan will be part of a corporate identity program being introduced in dealerships. The corporate identity program will eventually be accompanied by a series of promotional events designed to lure new customers to the Bentley brand.
The slogan was introduced along with a new version of the Bentley Arnage, called the Arnage Red Label. Both the Arnage and Silver Seraph received a series of engineering improvements designed to make them more autobahn friendly.
The new Red Label car features an updated version of the V-8 engine that has powered Bentleys for 40 years.
The 6.7-liter V-8 has more horsepower and torque than the 4.5-liter BMW V-8 the Arnage came equipped with when it was introduced just 18 months ago. Consumers in Bentley's UK home market in particular had not found the BMW engine in keeping with Bentley's high-torque image. The Red Label will be sold alongside the original BMW-powered Arnage, now known as the Green Label. The Red Label car will sell for £4,000 (euro 6,068) more.
'They responded very quickly to the disappointment of customers with these wimpy V-8s,' said Karl Ludvigsen, chairman of Ludvigsen Associates, a London-based automotive industry consultancy. 'They put back the big Bentley boomer. That's a special characteristic of these cars. The fact they responded so quickly is an impressive indicator of how much they want to compete.'
The new/old engine is part of Bentley's drive to get back to its core values. Tony Gott, Bentley managing director, also said the new engine marks the return of engine production and development to the Rolls-Royce and Bentley factory in Crewe, England.