Sneak Preview: Bentley

Under previous chairman Franz-Josef Paefgen, Bentley recorded several remarkable achievements: It returned to Le Mans with a cleverly disguised Audi R10 and won. It sold more than 10,000 cars for the first time in 2007. It expanded its model range to six different body styles. So why is Bentley today not swimming in cash and commanding long waiting lists? Because management applied the classic “wood and leather and bagfuls of torque” formula instead of considering more timely approaches like low weight, high fuel efficiency, and a more varied portfolio. Enter Wolfgang Duerheimer, who now handles Bentley, Bugatti, and the VW Group’s motorsports activities. Asked for his recipe to restore the winged B to its former glory, the new chairman answers immediately: “I am confident that we are going to see five figures again, but I need a bit more time to get there. Le Mans? It’s like betting all your money on one rather dark horse. For Porsche, this is a no-brainer, but despite the admittedly interesting efficiency-based new homologation rules, Bentley won’t compete there. I have a different idea. It revolves around a popular race series that is staged in North America, Europe, and Asia. That’s a big podium — big enough for Bentley, Audi, and Porsche. A rotational scheme could put the three brands through their paces in the three most important world markets with minimum investment and maximum effect. New products? Can’t talk about them, obviously. But it’s an open secret that Bentley is working on an SUV. It will be based on the next Cayenne/Q7 and is bound to attract at least 5000 buyers per year. In the States alone, I can see 20,000 potential customers — all of them current Bentley owners. And all of them have an SUV in the garage.”

Bentleys are beautifully made and beautiful to look at, but like chocolate eclairs they’re stuffed with unhealthy ingredients, such as insatiable W-12 engines, weighty mansion-house interiors, and body architectures built to last for generations. Originally, Paefgen had planned to replace the Continental family of cars with a lightweight model loosely linked to the current Audi A8, but when the controllers intervened, he reverted back to the same old steel layout. Although the new boss has to live with this DNA until 2018, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any changes. On the contrary: Bentley is introducing a twin-turbo V-8 for 2012 (see page 30) and a 375-hp, 4.2-liter turbo-diesel for 2013.

An amateur racer and a racing addict, Duerheimer will make sure to “take great pleasure out of driving new company cars. The Supersports is a promising starting point, but there is much more to come. All future products will be developed in close cooperation with Porsche. This not only applies to the SUV and the next Continental, but also to the Mulsanne’s successor. Of course, we are looking at the Brooklands/Azure segment, but not as a matter of urgency. We are also toying with offering something smaller than the Continental GT, but a decision is still at least a couple years away.”

Wolfgang Duerheimer, 53

Personality: Outgoing, congenial, and very intelligent, Duerheimer is that rare and refreshing German executive who doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously, maybe because he served as a BMW motorcycle mechanic for the grueling Paris-Dakar race even while being groomed as an executive.

Major career moves: At BMW, Duerheimer was involved in motorcycle product management before they put him in charge of all coupe models. After another seven-year interval on two wheels, he was hired by Porsche to nurse the iconic 911; in 2001, he joined the board as head of R&D. In 2011, he became Bentley’s CEO.

Biggest achievement: Worked wonders under Wendelin Wiedeking on a shoestring budget.

Claim to fame: Turned the Cayenne and the Panamera into smash hits, despite continuing financial constraints.