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Bentley encourages personalisation as dealers await its SUV

Bentley is celebrating registrations up 19% in 2013 to more than 10,000 a year again, and is cautiously optimistic of global growth of around 10% in the luxury sector in 2014.

But it is also acutely aware of the threats of protectionism that can emerge out of the blue in some markets.

"We allowed ourselves to bask in the glory for about 25 minutes because it was the result of a lot of things we have been trying to do for the last couple of years coming together," said board member for sales and marketing Kevin Rose.

"But there are also threats from things like changes to legislation or taxes. Singapore raised import duties by 20% in 2013. Beijing decided overnight to limit the number of new vehicle licences. It went from no limit to a restriction of 400,000 a year, which halved the level of demand. Around the world that sort of threat is always the case."

Bentley's sales were up by 45% in the Middle East, 26% in the Asia Pacific region and 11% in Europe, led by Germany and the UK. Outwardly the one surprise was a slight fall in China, although Rose says that Bentley was prepared for that because of the four-month delay awaiting the new Flying Spur in the strongest global market for the car.

"We have tried to grow sales in an orderly fashion. The most important thing is to strike a balance between markets and products. We now have a very healthy balance, although compared to 2007 it is a very different geographical distribution.

"We knew we were under-performing in the Middle East and we also knew the potential there. We needed a new Flying Spur and it has greatly helped us," he went on.

"We think this year we can get to a little bit more than where we are today, but we have 25% of the luxury-car market, which we define as cars with a price of  €150,000 or more, and to go higher than that against more and more competitors will be very difficult.

"We think there is scope for growth in mainland Europe and the Middle East, whereas in China it will be all about maintaining share."

Rose feels that niche cars like the Continental V8 S, which makes its American debut at Detroit Motor Show this week, and the increased personalisation options being offered on the flagship Mulsanne are two ways for Bentley to grow as it awaits the arrival of its first SUV in 2016. "We should do more and more of that and you will see it happening," he added.

"The SUV is well on track and we are working hard to make sure we do things on time. We will tease it a bit in the build-up to launch, but the next time you will see it fully will be the final version.

"For 2014 and 2015 we will just shut up and get on with the job. But when you see it, it could only be a Bentley. It feels good."

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