I just interviewed Christophe Georges, President & COO of Bentley in North and South America, and Darren Day, a longtime Bentley designer, in a private room on the Bentley stand at Javits. Both of these Bentley Boys are steadfast in their defense of the Bentley EXP 9 F sport-utility concept that debuted a month ago at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show.
"Reaction has been largely positive," claims Georges. "We have started product clinics in the United States and China, and we already did one in Geneva, where the vehicle was well received by potential customers."
To my assertion that the EXP 9 F lacks the grace and proportion of the Mulsanne sedan and the new Continental GT coupe, both Georges and Day point out that neither I nor anyone else ever saw a concept version of those cars before they reached production. "You haven't seen the process by which we develop and refine," says Day. "We didn't show that in the past, because we didn't have concept vehicles." He continues: "Generally, what we like to do is put a car on the show stand and tell our customers, here, you can buy this. But with the SUV, it's such a different market."
"I don't think you should worry about the front of the car or any other design details," asserts Day, who was in charge of the EXP 9 F's interior but has also worked on various Bentley exteriors during his eighteen-year career at the luxury automaker. "I know that, once we go into production, this car will be a fabulous vehicle. We will listen to our customers and to the media and the design will be inherently Bentley."
Bentley President Georges admonishes that the company has to be ahead of design trends, and to anticipate what future customers will like several years from now. "If you love a car concept today," he says, "that doesn't mean you will like a vehicle in 2015."
To that, I would say that, if I don't like a concept SUV in 2012 because its front styling is garish and looks like something done by a knockoff Chinese car company, I most certainly am not going to like it in 2015. Be that as it may, I would say that, despite Bentley's fierce defense of the Geneva concept, the vehicle is likely to undergo enough revisions over the next three years that it will, I hope, look a lot better in production form.
"The concept we've shown is one possible scenario as to how a Bentley SUV can look," assures Day. "It's simply a chance for the press and public to view possible scenarios."
As for the public, they won't get to see the Bentley EXP 9 F at the New York Auto Show, because it's being shown only to a select group of potential customers in private venues. However, Georges denies that the vehicle is missing from Bentley's Javits stand due to any backlash it might have received at Geneva. "Our stand here is simply not big enough to show it," he says, "but it will be seen publicly at several places in America this year, including Pebble Beach in August."
"Of course, some people will like the [SUV concept] less than others," remarks the suave Frenchman Georges. "But I'm very proud of what we've done."
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