At the Geneva Auto show in March 2012, the ultra luxury automotive brand Bentley admitted it was considering adding a luxury SUV to its range of vehicles.
A month later at the Beijing Auto show the CEO announced that the firm expects to sell 3,000 of the SUV annually once production starts in 2015.
You have to admire the speed at which they make decisions at Bentley, especially as they also showcased a blue concept car and introduced a range of models, from a 4.0 liter V8 twin turbo to a 6.0 liter W-12 monster at the Beijing event.
Bentley is on a roll at the moment and has just reported 37% increase in sales in 2011 with China driving demand. Crucially, this upsurge in sales helped the brand become profitable for the first time since 2008.
At the Beijing event the CEO also announced that the target market for the SUV was the developed SUV markets of the US, UK and China. Bearing in mind the first two are reining in spending and will be doing so for about the next 20 years, one would imagine that with the exception of a couple of US based rap artists, China alone will drive demand for this new SUV.
Which is probably why the company took the unprecedented step of asking Chinese users of Facebook and China’s most popular Twitter like platform Sina Weibo what they thought of the SUV concept.
Questions asked were related to the design and the interior and opinions on what sort of engine should be used and whether or not Bentley should actually launch the SUV.
Other general questions are asked about driving and vehicles. Incentives for completing the survey are wallpaper for a mobile device or computer.
Crowdsourcing is nothing new but bearing in mind that the firm has already announced the launch of the car and the models and the nature of the questions, it is questionable how this particular data will be used to drive the brand forward.
Nevertheless, despite the unusual research methodology, it makes sense for Bentley to go down this path. After all, the luxury SUV segment revived the fortunes of other automotive companies such as Porsche.
Porsche, previously known as a manufacturer of high performance sports cars, made the SUV move in the mid 1990s after years of stagnant sales following the stock market crash of 1987.
Since then, the Porsche Cayenne has become their best selling automobile ever and despite the global economic uncertainty, global sales are expected to rise 40% to over 52,000 vehicles by 2017.
Back in 2003 Porsche sold a meagre 138 cars in the whole of China. By 2011, Porsche was selling 8,629 units of the Cayenne alone, making it the Stuttgart company’s largest market for the SUV.
In 2009, Cayenne sales represented 83% of Porsche sales in China. With each Cayenne costing up to US$300,000, that’s not a bad business to be in.
Purists argue that the core brand – that of the two seater, meaty, macho sports car – is being diluted but with luxury and performance still core attributes, this is a weak argument, especially as Porsche continues to build the SUVs in Germany.
Range Rover is another luxury SUV manufacturer that is seeing record sales in China. Last year the company sold 50,994 vehicles in China, a remarkable 76% increase over the previous year. However Range Rover is also seeing significant growth in Europe where sales are up in Russia, France and Germany and even Spain has seen an 18% increase in sales despite the recession.
The recent success of the Range Rover Evoque has encouraged Porsche to launch a smaller SUV called the Macan in 2013.
So with Range Rover and Porsche already entrenched in the China market and with Lamborghini due to launch a luxury SUV (the Urus) by 2017, it makes sense for Bentley to extend the brand.