Seeing more from Bentley than Mercedes

As I was driving today from lunch at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, I began thinking that today’s business students need to read case studies about the resurgence of Bentley. In just two miles between the hotel and the 405, I saw seven Bentleys. In comparison, I counted only six Mercedes examples.

Beverly Hills isn’t the only place where Bentley is now in fashion. From Medina, WA to Manhattan, nothing says “I can afford to buy Mexico” like driving one of Crewe’s missals.

A die-hard British car fan, even I had little to love about the Bentley models of the last several decades. After the wonderful R and S-Type Continentals from 1952-1965, most of Bentley’s offerings were simply badge-engineered Rolls-Royces. This isn’t to say that the Azure convertibles weren’t pretty or powerful, as they definitely were, but rather that for the price, they were simply too antiquated to be a reasonable purchase for those also considering Mercedes S600s.

When VW took control of Bentley, things changed. The Continental GT turned out to be a technical and styling masterpiece. A combination of all wheel drive and a superpower W12 engine delivered enough oomph to see 60 mph in under five seconds and an indicated 200 mph flat-out. Quite simply, these were phenomenal achievements for a car weighing in excess of 5000 pounds.

Then came the Continental Flying Spur four door sedan, which used the GT’s DNA to so significantly improve ergonomics, that it could actually seat four six-footers comfortably. In comparison, the Arnage sold alongside it seems no more its contemporary as a ’46 Hudson.

Then the GTC convertible hit, which gave high-end convertible customers a sexier drop top option than the snooty Azure.

Now VW is laughing all the way to the bank. In the last 12 months, Bentley’s operating profit was up 62 million Euros to a total of 107 million. This is all due to a combination of streamlined modern production and increasing sales. In the third quarter alone, Bentley sold over 7800 cars worldwide. That’s up nearly 20 percent from last year and more than the entire decade-long production of Bentley S-Types!

Futhermore, for the first time in its history, females make up a large percentage of owners. It is not uncommon to see a woman behind the wheel of a GT or GTC. This says quite a bit about the style and ergonomics, because you’d be hard-pressed to find many other 200-mph supercars that are a hit among the day spa set.

Just to drive home how impressive Bentley’s achievements are, you need only look at Rolls-Royce. With its fine image pissed-away after the Reagan era, all that’s left is a single model. Even in its home market of England, Rolls-Royce is seen like Lincoln in America – a statement that the owner has no clue how to spend his retirement cash. Like Mercedes’ Maybach, BMW’s Rolls-Royce has continued to miss lowered projections.

General Motors and Ford should be taking notes on this, because in comparison to the big American companies, Bentley does a tiny amount of advertising and marketing. What has people buying Bentleys again is simple: damn good products.

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