Bentley's new course begins with Bentayga
NEW YORK — The Bentley Bentayga, as one life-style magazine puts it, is one helipad short of being a yacht.
For Bentley and its U.S. dealers that begin selling the first modern ultraluxury-brand SUV this month, the Bentayga marks an opportunity to reboot, repolish and chart a new course.
The launch is the British brand’s biggest undertaking since it was separated from Rolls-Royce in 2003, a split under Volkswagen Group that prompted a raft of new U.S. Bentley dealerships.
It coincides with an overhaul of Bentley’s dealerships under a new corporate identity program — the first since 2006. Altogether, Bentley’s 53 North and South American dealers are investing up to $60 million on expanded and renovated showrooms and service departments.
In Troy, Mich., outside Detroit, dealer principal David Fischer of the Suburban Collection refitted a former Hummer store to make room for a more spacious Bentley showroom that is now among the biggest in the country. Bentley’s largest U.S. dealer by volume, Beverly Hills Bentley in Southern California, is planning to open a renovated showroom.
Michael Winkler, CEO of Bentley Motors, says 80 percent of the brand’s dealerships will be upgraded or new, and with showrooms separate from other exotic brands, in time for the SUV’s debut.
The Bentayga is expected to become Bentley’s top seller and help more than double the brand’s annual U.S. sales. Bentley’s U.S. deliveries have slumped 46 percent this year through July. The new SUV is expected to give the brand a net gain in annual U.S. sales by year end, Winkler said.
“We now offer a business case for dealers to boost volume,” Winkler said. “With Bentayga, we will stabilize and grow the business, like never before, and rejuvenate the brand.”
Bentley is also launching a freshened 2017 Mulsanne and a new 2017 Flying Spur V8 S variant this year, and Winkler says at least one “other new specification” is planned before year end.
Winkler: Sees a big boost for Bentley sales
But the Bentayga gives the brand a chance to stake out fertile turf and draw new and even younger customers before rivals such as Maserati, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Maybach field posh and exotic SUVs.
Bentley is using the same sales and marketing approach Porsche deployed when it introduced its first SUV — the Cayenne in 2003 — and saw U.S. volume surge.
Dealers are hosting and sponsoring exclusive events — charity polo matches and ride-and-drives at jet centers — to introduce the Bentayga and get prospective clients behind the wheel.
Getting to know the gadgets
Younger sales associates are being hired to coach buyers on the Bentayga’s high-tech gadgetry — there are some 90 electronic control units on board that process some 100 million lines of code.
Dealer personnel underwent more than 15 training modules to become experts on the SUV’s technical specs, aluminum exterior, industry-first 48-volt automotive system, optional roof rack, available towbar-mounted cycle carrier and towing prowess (it’s the first Bentley subjected to towing tests).
Manny Quinones, sales manager at Bentley Manhattan in New York, said the Bentayga will become a third, fourth or fifth vehicle for many buyers.
Most orders, he said, have come from married men looking for “a family car.”
The size of the Bentley showroom on the far west side of mid-Manhattan has also been doubled ahead of the Bentayga’s debut. The SUV should help the dealership’s bottom line in a market that is consistently tough on profit and loss statements because of high overhead, Quinones said.
“It’s a worthwhile investment that’s going to have a positive impact on sales,” Quinones said. “The impression we will make with an SUV in the showroom will be far different, in a positive way.” c