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IAA ’03: Continental GT – Important Turning Point in New “Golden Era” for Bentley

As current champions and six time winners of Le Mans, manufacturer of the Golden Jubilee State Limousine for HM The Queen, and with the arrival of the all new Continental GT, Bentley Motors can confidently claim to be on the threshold of a new ‘golden’ era. Crewe, which has been the home of Bentley since 1946, is now a fully integrated business for the first time since 1931 and is continuing to benefit from a £500million investment programme from Volkswagen AG, who purchased the rights to the Bentley name five years ago.

The arrival of the all new Continental GT represents a vital step in a turn around programme designed to position Bentley firmly at the pinnacle of both technology and consumer aspiration in the automotive world. A programme that has challenged everyone associated with the marque to maintain their standards to benchmark levels, and embrace a new modern and competitive ideology: in manufacturing, design, engineering, production technologies and communication.

This regeneration would not have been possible without the resources and investment of the Volkswagen Group to which Bentley now belongs. For Volkswagen, Bentley provides a basis to develop further the organisation in its quest to reach the highest quality and volume levels in the automotive business. Specifically, Bentley provides global access to the opinion forming customers, whose purchasing decisions provide an aspirational template for others at earlier life and career stages to follow.

Although the benefits of the Volkswagen Group investment were seen in the introduction of the Series Two Arnage in 2002, it is the Continental GT that represents the first all-new product of an independent Bentley Motors.

Designed, engineered and built in Crewe, the Continental GT is an unique machine; a 560 PS (552bhp), four seat, four wheel drive coupé with 650Nm (479lbft) torque performance and a spacious, hand-crafted interior.

Even at first sight, the new Continental GT is unmistakably a Bentley. Yet it also represents a distinct step forward for the marque, a courageous evolution of a design language that began with the muscularity of the Speed Six of 1928 and that includes the iconic R-Type Continental of 1952.

Created by Dirk van Braeckel and his 40-strong team of designers, all based in Crewe’s recently built design facility, the shape of the Continental GT is potent, muscular and yet understated. The observant will notice echoes of the R-Type in the treatment of the ‘haunches’ around the rear wheel arch, whilst the short front overhang is another Bentley design keynote. Within the interior, the fine wood veneer fascia displays the symmetrical form of the Bentley winged emblem, and traditional touches like the bulls-eye air outlets are retained, not out of nostalgia, but because of their faultless functionality.

Management within the Volkswagen Group fully understand and respect that Bentley has a long-term value far beyond sums invested in current product plans. It has been in existence since 1919, has won Le Mans no fewer than six times and is a renowned marque, synonymous with supremely powerful and refined Grand Tourers for 84 years. So with this legacy to build on, and a sensitivity towards brand management, the product offensive has been carefully planned to ensure maximum credibility and appeal for the long run.

The W12-engined, twin-turbocharged Continental GT is not simply the fastest road-going Grand Tourer ever to bear Bentley’s distinctive winged ‘B’ emblem, it is also designed to broaden the customer base for the marque without losing any of its individuality or exclusivity of appeal.

Although a four-door saloon will follow in due course, the Board considered it crucial that the first all-new Bentley of the independent era should be a two-door coupé. Like the iconic GT Bentleys of the past, a coupé represents the ‘heartland’ of Bentley values; power, driving exhilaration, luxury and stunning design combined in one machine.

The credentials of the ultimate British Grand Tourer

Bentley and Grand Touring are inextricably linked. Even the original Le Mans winning

3 Litre, 4 _ Litre and Speed Six Bentleys of the 1920-30 Cricklewood era were not designed as out-and-out racing cars, but instead as fast, responsive and powerful Grand Tourers with the stamina to cross continents at pace, and drive in style.

Such a car is the new Continental GT. Despite its extraordinary performance – it can accelerate from 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds (0 – 100kmh in 4.8 seconds), and has a top speed of 198mph (318kmh) – the Continental GT is also a comfortable and relaxing driving machine, capable of easing smoothly through the rush-hour traffic crawl with equal facility, in total luxury.

Its cabin offers exceptional comfort for two adults and two children, whilst its 370-litre luggage compartment can accommodate two weeks’ worth of luggage and even four sets of skis.

Arguably no other machine exists which combines so many qualities. Bentley’s target customers want supercar levels of performance without having to endure the traditional supercar levels of discomfort and impracticality. They want the year-round dependability of four wheel drive, a commanding driving position that enables them to feel in control even in heavy city traffic, and yet they also want a machine that can provide exhilarating responsiveness and feedback at the limits of adhesion when driven hard.

The Continental GT answers all of those requirements and in doing so creates a class of one: the class of £110,000 (€137,069), hand-crafted, four-seat, four wheel-drive, supercar performance luxury Grand Tourers.

Customer demand beyond expectation and within capabilities of supply

Since the private viewings of the Continental GT in late 2002, through the World Premiere in Geneva 2003, orders have flowed into Crewe, providing cover for the first full year of production.

More than 75% of depositors are new to Bentley, and the profile of these early customers is as anticipated, and differs from the traditional Bentley buyer. Although still very wealthy entrepreneurs, they are at an earlier life stage, with differing priorities and car use patterns.

Early indications suggest that they are in their mid 40’s and their net worth is in singular millions, coming from an entrepreneurial background, or the top echelons of their chosen profession.

As marque awareness develops further, we anticipate more women buyers and it is our expectation that the Continental GT will be used as an everyday car.

Bentley’s competitive stance – on the track

Bentley is engaging in communication and product investment to ensure that it reaches its new customer groups, and creates excitement and awareness for current and new products. In making decisions about how best to achieve this, Bentley sought to understand the past as a framework for steering future strategy.

For the seven consecutive years between 1924 and 1930 Bentley entered a works team for the Le Mans 24-hour race, winning outright on five occasions. This exceptional record was central to the Bentley legend, establishing it as the maker of the most accomplished and exciting Grand Tourers in the world.

For that reason Bentley Motors decided to return to the scene of its greatest triumphs: Le Mans. In 2001 the all-new Bentley EXP Speed 8 stunned and delighted the Le Mans crowds by taking third place overall and first in class. In 2002 another class win followed, whilst in 2003 the Team Bentley Speed 8s crowned the three-year programme with a crushing 1-2 overall victory.

After a gap of 73 years, the dark green Bentleys were once again on top of the endurance racing world. Crucially, for the success of the Continental GT, the marque’s credentials had been emphatically re-established.

Bentley’s competitive stance – in the market

Bentley will also retain a stronghold in the very highest price sectors within the automotive market through cars such as the Arnage, which offers the opportunity for unparalleled levels of personalisation through Bentley Mulliner at Crewe. Bentley Mulliner affords its customer’s unlimited levels of freedom in specification, covering every aspect of the car, from amour plating to coachwork, exterior and interior design. The pinnacle example being the Bentley State Limousine delivered to HM The Queen last year.

In order to grow, Bentley has clearly identified a new sector between the top end Mercedes Benz and its own offerings, where new product will create an opportunity for growth. After clearly reviewing the opinions of potential owners, the Continental GT was conceived to meet their needs, create a compelling proposition, and one which is 100 per cent aligned to Bentley heritage and core values.

Priced at £110,000, the projected annual sales volumes of around 3500 for the Continental GT represent around 20 per cent of the present-day high luxury two-door market. However, the number of individuals with the means to purchase a £110,000 car would generate a market size far greater than current sales volumes might suggest. (According to the 2001 Merrill Lynch Wealth Report there are over 1.5 million High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) worldwide with investable assets of over $5 million, the target group for the Continental GT.)

With the launch of the Continental GT offering a unique driving experience in an under-developed market, and with the enlightened investment philosophy of the Volkswagen Group, the 2003 Le Mans champions look forward to a future of exceptional promise. The new golden era for Bentley has begun.

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