Business

Rolls-Royce and Bentley shrug off recalls and eye revival

Image caption Rolls-Royce sales are expected to double in 2010 to more than 2,000 cars

Scandal has hit the world of ultra-luxurious cars, with both Rolls-Royce and Bentley recalling models during the last week.

Last Friday, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars recalled several hundred cars around the world to fix a fault with their braking systems.

A week earlier, Bentley recalled hundreds of cars to fix faults with its Flying B bonnet ornaments that could have prevented them from retracting in the event of a crash, thus potentially causing injury.

The problems beg the question: are the British luxury car marques losing the grip?

Strong revival

The latest sales figures suggest not.

As the global recession is petering out, it seems customers are once again queuing up to buy cars from Rolls-Royce and Bentley.

Image caption Rolls-Royce's Muller-Otvos says luxury car buyers are attracted by new models

"Last year we sold about 1,000 cars," Rolls-Royce Motor Cars' chief executive Torsten Muller-Otvos tells BBC News in an interview.

"This year we'll see 2,000 sales - maybe a little more."

Much of the growth is a result of Rolls-Royce introducing a "baby-Rolls": Its Ghost model is marginally cheaper than the Phantom range of models, which includes the big flagship, the convertible and a coupe.

But the sales revival is also a sign of the times, Mr Muller-Otvos says.

"The segment is picking up, the economy is growing."

"And the Ghost is the right car for the right time," he reasons, pointing to how it is more of a drivers' car, rather than a grand chauffeur-driven statement that might seem less appropriate during austere times.

Bentley bounces back

Image caption The new Bentley Continental GT is set to drive the marque's revival

Another car that might prove to be the right product at the right time is the revamped Bentley Continental GT, which has a more angular design than its predecessor.

After all, in the words of rival Mr Muller-Otvos: "This segment is very much offer-driven," so new models tend to drive sales.

The new Continental GT arrives just as the Crewe-based luxury marque starts its long climb back to pre-recession sales of 10,000 cars per year.

Bentley is not there yet, though.

Sales crashed to about 4,000 in 2009, so it has been a "pretty calamitous time" for the company, agrees recently appointed marketing director, Alasdair Stewart.

But as new-style derivatives of the GT - such as a four-door Flying Spur or a convertible - filter through, the marque should soon be back with a vengeance, he predicts.

"With the next range, we expect to sell at least as many as we sold of the previous generation," Mr Stewart says in an interview with BBC News.

'Boom and bust'

Image caption Bentley's Mr Stewart wants sales to be less volatile in the future

During the seven years since it was first launched, some 23,000 Continental GT models were sold.

Add the four-door and the convertible to the equation and that figure doubles, Mr Stewart says.

With the launch of new models, Bentley will do all it can to ensure sales are both strong and stable, Mr Stewart says.

Bentley "could be cleverer, perhaps, at how we bring derivatives and new versions to the market," he reasons.

Moreover, the marque is aiming to broaden the brand's appeal and attract more younger buyers.

A part of this effort it will soon offer a V8 engine that is expected to deliver 40% better fuel economy and emissions than its current 12-cylinder engine.

Its high-end customers, meanwhile, are still buying the Bentley's Mulsanne flagship, which is produced to order to the tune of 800 per year and has a 12-months waiting list.

Mr Stewart hopes such moves will also help reduce the volatility in demand for its cars:

"The challenge is to get away from the boom and bust cycle," he says.

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