Demand prompts Bentley to unveil luxury SUV in Vancouver

Launch follows other luxury brands that want to capitalize on general demand for SUVs

Bentley Motors president for the Americas, Michael Winkler, was in Vancouver November 24 to unveil the Bentayga | Glen Korstrom

Bentley Motors is following Tesla and pre-empting other ultra-luxury brands, such as Aston Martin and Maserati, by launching a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV).

Tesla launched its luxury SUV on September 29 and delivered vehicles to the first six buyers.

Those who want a Bentley Bentayga SUV, however, will have to wait about a year for the vehicle to be delivered, said Michael Winkler, who is president of Bentley in the Americas and was at the November 24 Canadian launch of the Bentayga at the Bentley store on Burrard Street.

The company chose Vancouver to be the Canadian launch city because it is the company’s biggest sales market in Canada. The global launch took place earlier this year in Frankfurt, Germany.

About 60 Bentley vehicles were sold in Vancouver last year. Winkler hopes that, with the launch of the Bentayga, that number will rise to about 90 this year. 

The Toronto market is close behind Vancouver in raw sales for Bentley vehicles but much further behind in terms of market share, Winkler said.

“Bentley has a tradition, if you go back in history, of being driven and owned by people who have a bit of a maverick spirit,” he said. “Our customers like that and I think the audience in Vancouver very much fits that kind of a character description and therefore the brand fits well in Vancouver.”

Mark Edmonds, who is general manager of Ferrari Maserati of Vancouver, suggested that Range Rover might compete with Bentley, as it has SUVs that could cost close to $200,000.

Winkler, who previously worked at Land Rover, dismissed that vehicle as not in the super-luxury category that the Bentayga is in.

“Bentley vehicles are completely made using hand-crafted production methods, especially in the interior of the car,” he said. “The steering wheel will take someone six hours to put the leather on. The wood in the car is consistently from the same tree to make sure that the lines in the wood, without seam, go into each other.”

Curiously, the Bentayga will sell for less in Canada, $266,000, than in the U.S., where it will cost US$229,000.

“Cars are not wet goods,” Winkler said. “You shouldn’t change the price every five minutes because of currency exchange. You find what you think is a sweet spot in the market, in the country that you sell the car in, and that’s where you position your price.”

Edmonds, Winkler and Brian Jessel BMW principal Brian Jessel agree that huge demand exists, not only for luxury SUVs but for SUVs in general. That is because customers increasingly want to be higher-up when driving and because of a perception that the vehicles are safer, they said.

Indeed, sales of SUVs and crossovers in Canada were up 9% in the first-half of 2015. That is an increase of approximately 26,000 units compared with the first six months of 2014, according to the Global Automakers of Canada (GAC).

The top selling SUV in Canada in the first 10 months of 2015 is the Ford Escape, which sold 40,423 units.  – down 10.5% from the same period last year. The SUV that has had the biggest sales spike this year is the Jeep Cherokee, which has sold 26,125 units in the first 10 months of the year. That's up 41.5% from 18,469 units in the same period last year, according to the GAC.

Jessel said his BMW SUVs, which range in price up to about $135,000, do not directly compete with the Bentayga.

“We’re getting a more expensive SUV soon and there’s a possibility that we’ll be closer in price to the Bentley,” he said.

Currently, BMW SUVs compete more with the Porsche Cayenne and brands such as Mercedes Benz and Lexus.