Believe it or not, 96 isn’t too old to have growing pains, as Bentley is now discovering. The brand has big ambitions for its future but seems to be coming up short of them at the moment. Bentley’s China operation is already 1,500 units behind schedule this year, and hundreds of cars have been reported sold without ever leaving dealer lots in major European markets like Great Britain. Rebates will invariably continue to increase; and resale values could potentially drop even faster.
Seems the 2017 Bentley Bentayga SUV can’t go on sale soon enough, seeing as it will have a profound effect on the production output of Bentley, which sold 11,020 vehicles last year. The Bentayga is expected to find 3,600 takers next year and about 5,000 in 2017.
Soon after, Bentley will begin sprucing up its lineup, starting with a revised Mulsanne that’ll debut at the 2016 Geneva auto show. The disappointingly slow-selling, top-of-the-range sedan from Crewe receives a proper facelift with a wider, more upright grille, a squarer front end, restyled headlamps, and three brick-shaped air intakes in the bumper.
During an interview at the 2015 Frankfurt show, Bentley CEO Wolfgang Durheimer made it clear that the Mulsanne is high on his priority list.
“Wait for the next motor shows to come and what we have to announce, but I can tell you that we are taking close care about the Mulsanne,” he said. “Mulsanne will get further derivatives, and we are going to enlarge this beautiful flagship model line.”
The first of those derivatives will no doubt be the Mulsanne Grand Convertible, which should arrive by early 2017. Durheimer confirmed during the interview that he was aware Bentley dealers are already taking orders for the Grand Convertible. “We have some important customers that are waiting for this car. It will be very exciting for us to have this car on the market. I think it fits very well and we are keen to do it,” he said. Expect a production intent Grand Convertible to pop up at an auto show sometime in late 2016, possibly at Los Angeles.
To follow is the next-generation Continental lineup, complete with Continental GT, GTC, and Flying Spur models. Trickling out between 2017 and 2019, the design of the three bestsellers should be both evolutionary and daring, and all will share a modular matrix (MSB) with the 2017 Porsche Panamera and the (not yet signed off) 2021 Mulsanne replacement. The front-mid-engine layout works wonders for handling, sources say, and no major changes are expected under the hood where buyers will again be able to choose between a 4.0-liter V-8 and 6.0-liter W-12. (The current Continental GT is pictured.)
As for the fabulously well-received two-seat EXP10 Speed 6 sports car concept that has been paraded around the auto show circuit, it’s no surprise that Durheimer is fully behind doing it, but the business case still needs to be made to the VW Group board.
“With EXP10 Speed 6, we are in the similar situation to where we were with Bentayga when we first showed it in Geneva in 2012. This car has gone on a route around the world, we tested all major markets and with a lot of customers and the basic answer was the same: Don’t ask us questions, just do it,” Durheimer said. “So, it’s a so-called ‘no brainer’ and we are intensively working on the business case and we intend to hand it off for approval after Bentagya is on the market [next summer]. I’m confident that with EXP10 Speed 6 we will find a good solution.”
Right now, the plan is to launch the Speed 6 in late 2019 with a 600-hp twin-turbo V-8. Then we’d see a Speed 6 convertible in 2020, together with a new Continental GT3 and a facelifted Bentayga.
Bentley is also toying with the idea of tapping into the genes of the new Audi Q5 to create a second SUV (rumors of a range-topping supercar also persist). The controllers of the brand are bound to applaud this approach while the custodians of the brand will vehemently oppose it, but pairing either the Speed 6 or another, smaller SUV with the Bentayga would take pressure off Bentley’s mid-size models, increase volume without inflating it, address a younger, more affluent clientele, and help quell the brand’s growing pains.
Despite the challenges the brand faces, Durheimer appears very happy with where Bentley is headed. “From a two seat sports car, to a Mulsanne long wheelbase, to the Bentayga we will have a lineup at Bentley Motors that will create a great success for us.”