Newest Bentley due in 2003

NEW YORK - The first all-new Bentley under Volkswagen AG ownership will be a large, "super-powerful" coupe. It will sell for about $145,000 when U.S. sales begin in mid-2003.

That was the word Thursday from Alasdair Stewart, the CEO of U.S. sales arm Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars Inc. In a speech to the International Motor Press Association in New York, Stewart called the new model a "GT coupe."

That will not be the new car's name, he added. Until now, Bentley's code-name for the new model was Mid Size Bentley, or MSB for short. "We decided MSB was getting a little misleading. The car will be a big car, and the term 'mid-size' set people's expectations for sort of almost a mid-compact," Stewart said.

He said suggested retail will be $140,000 to $150,000 - vs. $200,000 to well over $300,000, for the present lineup.

In addition to the coupe, Bentley will offer additional models on the same platform, with different body styles and engines, Stewart said. He would not specify which engines the new Bentley will get, other than to say they will be "Bentley engines, engineered by Bentley." Bentley's sister division, Audi, is working on a 414-hp, 6.0-liter, W-12 engine, and that could be a possibility.

U.S. sales for Rolls-Royce and Bentley combined were 804 units in 2000. Bentley accounted for about 80 percent of the total. The company expects total 2001 sales to be roughly even with a year ago, with Bentley accounting for about 85 percent, Stewart said.

After adding the new coupe and other models, the company expects U.S. sales for Bentley alone of about 3,000 to 4,000 a year by 2005, he said.

Parent company Volkswagen AG presently owns both Rolls-Royce and Bentley brands. But after Dec. 31, 2002, Volkswagen takes over Bentley, and BMW AG takes over the Rolls-Royce brand.

The U.S. sales and marketing arm for Bentley, based at the headquarters for Volkswagen of America Inc. in Auburn Hills, Mich., will become Bentley Motors Inc. Stewart has been CEO since December 1998.

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com

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