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Plan B: Bentley's Ambitious Growth Plans - The Big Picture

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 10/7/2014 Angus MacKenzie

Smart, hard-driving, straight-talking Wolfgang Dürheimer is back in the hot seat at Bentley Motors. And after a tough couple of years elsewhere in the VW Group's senior management shark pool, he has a point to prove. Dürheimer's goal is to increase Bentley's annual sales from 10,000 vehicles worldwide to 15,000 by 2018. Spearheading that charge will be the all-new SUV previewed by the controversial EXP 9 F concept shown at the 2012 Geneva show.

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The EXP 9 F was panned for its brutish design, but Dürheimer is unrepentant: "I liked very much the show car," he says with a smile, "but it was, I admit, a big provocation."

The production version will be built using VW Group's MLB vehicle architecture. (MLB designates FWD or AWD, with longitudinal engines.) It will look much the same as the concept from the side, and there will be minor changes to the rear. The front end -- the concept's most polarizing view -- has been "Bentley Continentalized," as Dürheimer describes it. Toned down, in other words.

Bentley's off-roader will be fast, luxurious, and expensive, positioned comfortably above the Range Rover Autobiography Long Wheelbase. "We will solve the problem that you cannot spend more than $160,000 on an SUV," Dürheimer deadpans.

The launch engine will be a new 6.0-liter W-12. A V-8 will follow a year later, as will a plug-in hybrid. Powertrain and suspension tune will be unique to Bentley, and Dürheimer insists the vehicle will have genuine off-road capability. "We are doing a lot of testing in sand at the moment," he says. No prizes for guessing the oil-rich Middle East will be a prime market.

Bentley EXP 9 F concept headlight© Provided by MotorTrend Bentley EXP 9 F concept headlight

The new SUV is just the opening salvo in Dürheimer's growth strategy, however. A replacement for the Brooklands coupe -- based on the full-size Mulsanne sedan platform -- is on the drawing board, and both cars will get the W-12 engine Dürheimer had planned to fit in Bentley's flagship during his first stint at Crewe. He's also looking at adding a brand-new car to the Bentley lineup.

There are two possibilities, Dürheimer says: something to fill the space between Continental and Mulsanne, or to be positioned below the Continental range. He won't elaborate further, but the plan to build the next-generation Continental and Flying Spur off the VW Group's new MSB vehicle architecture is key to the new car.

MSB is highly flexible: MSB-M means mid-engine RWD or AWD, and will underpin the forthcoming Ferrari 458-fighting Porsche 960 as well as the next-gen Cayman/Boxster; MSB-H means rear-engine RWD or AWD, and will form the basis of the next 911; MSB-F means front-engine RWD or AWD, and is designed to support Porsche's next-generation Panamera as well as the Continental and Flying Spur replacements.

Moving off the existing FWD-based platform and on to MSB allows Bentley design chief Luc Donckerwolke to endow the new Continental and Flying Spur with classic, long-hood Bentley proportions instead of the current cars' slightly pug-nosed stance. MSB's dimensional flexibility also allows an all-new Bentley to be created for a relatively modest investment.

Placing a car between Continental and Mulsanne -- or Flying Spur and Mulsanne -- would be tough because the necessarily high price tag would limit sales, and there's not much daylight between them all in terms of a product hierarchy.

A car priced under the Continental makes a stronger business case. But what sort of car? There has been talk of a smaller sedan -- and that may come in the distant future -- but it's perhaps too proletarian a product concept for a baby Bentley. The whispers around Crewe suggest an MSB-based four-door coupe or a two-door sports car instead.

The aim would be to trump Mercedes-Benz's AMG CLS, or the forthcoming AMG GT sports car, with a Bentley that's more luxurious, more expensive, and more exclusively glamorous. Sound like a familiar strategy? It should. It's exactly what Bentley did to Mercedes' CL (now S-Class) coupe with the original Continental GT.

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