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Bentley welcomes Rolls-Royce SUV

New faces: The new design of Bentley's SUV is still under wraps, but expect it to differ from the polarising EXP 9 F concept revealed in 2012.

Bentley not concerned about Rolls SUV as work continues on its own off-roader

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Bentley logo16 Sep 2013

By TIM NICHOLSON

BENTLEY has welcomed news that arch-rival Rolls-Royce is looking at an uber-luxury SUV, as the Volkswagen-owned marque continues development of its own first crossover model.

Speaking at the Frankfurt motor show last week, Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes told media, including US publication AutoNews, that the BMW-owned company was “intensively thinking about entering the SUV segment”.

Mr Mueller-Oetvoes said Rolls was considering adding an all-wheel drive wagon to its line-up as the SUV market had remained strong during the global financial crisis. Evaluation has reportedly already begun, with designers drawing up concept sketches.

Bentley handed down the production green light to its own future SUV in July, 16 months after it got the ball rolling with the controversial EXP 9 F concept premiered at the 2012 Geneva motor show.

In reference to the Rolls-Royce news, Bentley's Asia Pacific regional coordinator David Simpson said the two vehicles would be different enough to forge their own space in the market. Mr Simpson spoke with GoAuto at the opening of its new Lance Dixon dealership in inner-Melbourne last week.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a Rolls,” he said. “But it would be a very different thing to what we offer. I can imagine how people make the connection between the two of them, but I don’t think we are nervous about it.”

Mr Simpson said he welcomed the competition from Rolls-Royce and suggested that the Bentley-branded SUV would push the company to new sales heights.

“In terms of volumes, the SUV is going to take us to the next level. It's still going to be a bespoke product and we don’t expect to be making hundreds of thousands of cars every year. We don’t have the capacity and we don’t intend to.” “We are creating another segment and I fully expect other car manufacturers will join. But I welcome it because I think that will then drive the next generation of SUVs to the next level.

“It will create competition and create better cars in the long run as we all start to compete to make a better SUV.”

Development of the high-riding Bentley took a hit last year when the British car-maker was forced to rethink the exterior design of the polarising EXP 9 F following stern criticism.

Since then, the company sought feedback on the design from existing Bentley owners, potential customers and owners of rival brands in markets including China, the US and Europe, re-working the styling of the car to make it more visually appealing. The result is yet to be seen.

Mr Simpson said feedback on the concept's interior design was mostly positive and added that Bentley has already approved the updated exterior styling.

“The concept we signed off in Crewe, is very, very different to the concept we have shown before. It is certainly a step in the right direction because it was taken from the customer feedback that we took around the world.

“Nobody saw it before we showed it, we got feedback after we showed it and we have taken that on board. And it’s a beautiful car,” he said.

Mr Simpson could not say when Bentley would reveal the next stage of the SUV's styling, but said development had progressed well beyond the stage of design sketches.

“There are a few prototypes in the factory now. We are not still at the stages of sketches. Now with the approval, we are at the stage where we are engineering that car now. We are building parts and designing parts, so we are in full swing of development now.”

The as-yet unnamed SUV is expected to hit European roads sometime in 2015, with launches in other markets to follow into 2016.

Bentley isn't the only Volkswagen Group company currently developing a high-end SUV, with Italian supercar brand Lamborghini working on a production version of its wild Urus concept from last year's Beijing motor show.

Mr Simpson said the sister companies were heading in very different directions for their respective SUVs and expressed little concern about internal competition.

“The brand Lamborghini stands for performance, they are going to be making something that is going to be much more hardcore and less focussed on technology, luxury and refinement. The SUV for us will move everything forward in terms of luxury and will move everything forwards a massive step in terms of technology.” he said.

Mr Simpson said Bentley welcomed competition from direct rivals such as Rolls-Royce but also said there was room for more than one premium SUV in the Volkswagen Group.

“I don’t think a Rolls-Royce SUV will take anything from us that would be noticeable. And Lamborghini volumes would not be massive. But obviously we would welcome any interest in the (Volkswagen) Group. You’d be happy for the Group to have it. I don’t think we are bitter about it though, I think we are quite happy for Lamborghini to keep it going.”

While Bentley expects its first ever SUV to be popular in China, Mr Simpson said appealing to buyers in the booming Asian powerhouse was not the company's sole focus during initial development.

“Certainly in building the SUV, they had a big share of the voice. But we are never going to make a car for one market. We are going to make a global car and we will try and suit it best to where we think the volume is. And part of that is China but I don’t think it’s a holding share, shall we say, in the voice.”

Mr Simpson said there was already strong demand for the SUV in a number of global markets, including Australia, where some keen punters have already put down deposits for the uber-luxury SUV, despite not having seen it.

“Certainly in Australia there is a lot of positivity. Customers who have said, 'I know it's not exactly what I saw and it’s a long way away' but there’s customer deposits already that exist for that car within dealerships in Australia.”

Fellow British brand Jaguar confirmed at Frankfurt it was joining the luxury SUV brigade by revealing its C-X17 concept, while Maserati's Levante SUV offering is poised to go on sale in Europe sometime in 2015.

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