FRANKFURT - Bentley's plans for a new ultra-luxurious sports utility vehicle for the super rich will be closely watched by rivals mulling a similar move, analysts said.
On Tuesday, Bentley, which usually builds stately sedans for heads of state, announced it will go ahead with plans to build "the most luxurious and most powerful SUV in the market."
German auto sector expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer said SUVs are the fastest-growing segment in the car market, but one into which super-luxury carmakers have not really ventured so far.
Porsche, the maker of high-end sports cars which like Bentley also belongs to Europe's biggest car maker Volkswagen (IW 1000/10), has seen its sales boosted by its Cayenne SUV.
"There's a gap which Bentley is now trying to fill and other carmakers are watching attentively. Bentley is the first, but the others will follow," Dudenhoeffer said.
Lamborghini, yet another racehorse in the VW stable, and Fiat's (IW 1000/48) Maserati are similarly eyeing the SUV market.
Target customers will be the super-rich in China and Russia.
SUV to be Built in Britain
Bentley did not give any indication just yet of the anticipated purchase price, but Dudenhoeffer put it at $238,000.
"The SUV will be a thoroughbred Bentley true to the brand hallmarks of luxury, performance, quality and craftsmanship," Bentley vowed.
"The styling will set it apart from any other SUV on the road."
Bentley said the new range will require an investment of $1.23 billion and the SUV is to be built in Crewe, in Britain, where it would create more than 1,000 jobs.
Bentley's pursuit of an SUV had been up in the air, as the company awaited a green light from Volkswagen and debated where production would be based.
Media reports had also seen VW's plant in Bratislava in the Czech Republic as a possible production site. That is where other SUVs within the group -- VW Touareg, Audi Q7 and the Porsche Cayenne -- are built.
"The Volkswagen Group believes in the UK as a competitive location for industrial production. Bentley fans all around the world are looking forward to the brand's first SUV," said VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn.
Bentley Could Double Sales
The plans were "fantastic news for both Crewe and for the UK as a whole. It is another important milestone in strengthening our economy," beamed British prime minister David Cameron, who was in Crewe for the announcement.
"I am delighted that Bentley will be building their new vehicle here, not only creating a thousand jobs, but safeguarding many more," Cameron said.
A spokesman for Bentley said it was too early to say how many of the new SUVs would actually roll off the production line each year.
But its chief has suggested the model would enable Bentley to double annual sales to 15,000 by 2018.
"Many of our customers say they want a Bentley SUV," the group spokesman said.
Estelle Peard, AFP
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013