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Bentley luxury SUV bet

LONG DRIVE

London, Jan. 12: Everybody, it seems, wants a sports utility vehicle, a 4x4, a Chelsea Tractor, an offroader, a crossover, an urban SUV, a faux by four.

The upright estate is the motor segment of the moment. Jaguar Land Rover has launched or relaunched three Range Rover models in the past three years and is working up a Jaguar SUV. The bestselling car in Britain outside the normal troupe of hatchbacks is Nissan’s Sunderland-built Qashqai.

Vauxhall, meanwhile, claims that its Mokka will help to catapult the brand into market-leadership in Britain. Ford is regretting that it cannot get enough of its SUV models into the UK. Smarter streets are clogged up with bulky Germans known as M-Class, X5 or Q7.

Yet one German engineer believes that there is a gap in the market, a sub-sector still to be invented. Wolfgang Schreiber is the chairman and CEO of Bentley Motors and he believes the world is ready for the first luxury SUV.

His reputation and perhaps even that of Bentley itself hangs on whether he is right.

Having overseen in 2013 the launch of the latest Bentley, the Flying Spur, which helped the group to record deliveries of 10,120 for the year, Schreiber admits that the as-yet unnamed Bentley SUV is now the single biggest item on his agenda.

The project has already been fraught with politics and industry spite. “It has needed a lot of effort to get everything together, to answer all the questions, from financial aspects to where it should be built. All has been discussed many times in many, many meetings,” Schreiber says in the improving English of a man 16 months in a country he neither expected to live nor work in.

Bentley is a proud, British heritage motor brand whose sprawling former Second World War aircraft engine-making plant dominates the Cheshire rail interchange town of Crewe. Schreiber says that the debate with his bosses at Bentley’s parent Volkswagen were as forceful over whether a new SUV would be built in the town as they were over hitting a 21 per cent target return on investment — VW is ploughing in 800 million to create 1,000 jobs in the factory and supply chain.

 
 
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