LOS ANGELES -- Americans who put a deposit on the Bentley Continental GT coupe will wait 12 months to take delivery, said Adrian Hallmark, Bentley Motors Inc. board member for sales and marketing.
When dealers were asked to "flush out" their order banks to root out speculators, the order book grew, Hallmark said. Dealers began entering orders that had been on paper but not forwarded to the manufacturer.
About 8 percent of potential owners have dropped off the list because they were not patient enough to wait for their vehicles, Hallmark said.
Despite the demands on the Crewe, England, factory, Bentley will add a GT sedan to the lineup by mid-year. The vehicle will be unveiled at the Geneva auto show in March.
'At the capacity limit'
Bentley CEO Franz-Josef Paefgen declined to say when a GT convertible would be launched. U.S. customers usually buy luxury convertibles over coupes by a 7-to-3 margin, he said.
"We are at the capacity limit, and we will have the sedan in the next few months," Paefgen said. "That extends the coupe wait list even more. Could you imagine what a third car would do to capacity? We would do a convertible only if there were signs of weakness in the other two models."
'Technology is there'
Still, Paefgen said a concept GT convertible has been built at Crewe.
"The technology is there, but not the where, how and when it will be built," he said.
Bentley sold between 5,000 and 5,500 cars worldwide in 2004, up from less than 1,000 in 2003. This year, that number should exceed 6,000. Bentley sold 2,394 units in the United States in 2004.
Bentley's momentum could be slowed by an imminent price increase triggered by the weak dollar against the euro and British pound. But the price increase is expected to be well below 10 percent, Paefgen said.
Bentley took the wraps off a convertible version of its Arnage. The Arnage Drophead Coupe is not a concept car but rather a prototype of a car likely to come to market.
Added Hallmark: "We can't raise prices 25 percent, because that will kill the business. But we can't just sit and watch the exchange rates, because we will go bankrupt."
Bentley offers a form of pricing protection for customers who order a car. The price is secured when the vehicle specifications are confirmed and a delivery date has been set.
Although ultra-luxury rivals Rolls-Royce and Maybach experienced disappointing sales years in 2004, Paefgen defended the idea of building the $320,000 Arnage Drophead Coupe unveiled at the Los Angeles auto show.
Paefgen said the Bentley board has discussed abandoning the ultra-luxury market to concentrate on cars priced closer to the $160,000 Continental GT. But he dismissed that idea.
"That would be a mistake," he said. "To position the brand, we need to be in the top end, especially with a convertible, which makes a very emotional statement."
Paefgen said Bentley has committed to the budget to build the Arnage Drophead Coupe, although the tooling has not been purchased for the expected spring 2006 launch.
You may e-mail Mark Rechtin at [email protected]