DOHA (Reuters) -- Bentley's vehicle sales this year likely will be lower than last year, said Kevin Rose, the brand's board member for sales and marketing, as economic uncertainties and the slump in oil prices leave some customers more cautious about luxury purchases.
Last year, the Volkswagen Group subsidiary delivered a record 11,020 vehicles, 9 percent more than the previous year.
But slower growth in China, fears of deflation in Europe, weak oil prices and the threat of Islamic State militants are all factors that may lead to slower sales growth for Bentley, Rose said.
"If I was one car ahead of last year, I'd be happy," Rose told Reuters in an interview in Doha on Thursday. "I'm taking the balanced view and would say growth will be less."
Despite the challenges, Bentley has expansion plans including its first SUV. Rose declined to say when the SUV would be launched but said it was likely to be at a major auto show during the year.
The launch is part of a growth plan under which the company last October launched a new version of its flagship Mulsanne sedan, touting the Speed model as "the world's fastest ultraluxury driving experience." Its price tag of 324,000 euros ($411,000) makes it Bentley's most expensive model to date.
Overall, group sales last year in the Americas, Bentley's biggest market, edged up 1.5 percent to 3,186 cars, while in China, its second-biggest market, sales jumped 22 percent to 2,670 cars.
In the Middle East, customers seem to be more cautious about luxury purchases due to oil prices. Rose said so far there had been no cancellations of orders, rather postponing of buying. "At the moment, no one is getting depressed about the oil price but they are saying 'let's wait and see'."
Sales in the United Arab Emirates are the highest in the region, with Saudi Arabia showing good prospects, helped as in other markets by Bentley's ability to meet sometimes surprising demands.
Rose said: "There was a Middle Eastern lady who wanted the car color to match her Dior nail varnish. We had to fly over some metal plates to see if the color matched and, in the end, it did."