Porsche, BMW vet has big plans as Bentley's boss

Automotive News interviews Bentley's new CEO.

Auto Tech

GENEVA--Wolfgang Duerheimer, the ex-Porsche product meister who took over as CEO of Bentley Motors last month, says his first task is to get annual global sales back to their record level of 10,000 vehicles.

The 52-year-old German says Bentley can achieve that with its current vehicle range by selling more in new markets such as Russia and China. He also wants to boost sales in the United States, the superluxury brand's biggest market.

Duerheimer, based at Bentley headquarters in Crewe, England, won't say how long it will take to hit his sales targets and return Bentley to profitability. But he's confident of achieving double-digit growth in 2011 if the overall market continues to recover.

Bentley, acquired by Volkswagen Group in the late 1990s, was the darling of luxury carmakers just five years ago when global sales peaked at 10,014 vehicles.

Last year it sold 5,170 cars worldwide, up from 4,616 a year earlier. U.S. sales peaked at 3,990 in 2007. Bentley sold 1,430 cars in the United States last year and 1,367 in 2009.

What's ahead?
Duerheimer, who also heads VW's Bugatti unit, says it's too soon to discuss product plans for Bentley, such as expanding the range beyond its two vehicles. Bentley offers the Continental, including the $183,795 Flying Spur sedan and $208,195 GTC convertible, and the $287,595 Mulsanne large sedan. The prices include shipping.

As for future products, Duerheimer says, "There are no 'nos' or 'don't dos' in terms of segments of cars.

"Whatever matches our brand can be discussed seriously," he says.

A strategic review of Bentley is expected to be completed by midyear. It will include product, power train, technology, logistics, and production as well as sales and marketing and brand development.

Bentley will be integrated into Volkswagen Group's new vehicle development strategy. Porsche, now under VW's control, will lead development of the group's large sedans and sports cars. Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller said this year that the future Bentley Continental and Lamborghini Estoque four-door sedans will use the next-generation Porsche Panamera platform.

Whatever it takes
Duerheimer says he has received the go-ahead from VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn and Supervisory Board Chairman Ferdinand Piech to do "whatever is necessary to give the brand a successful future."

For the past 10 years, Duerheimer headed product development at Porsche. He refers to Porsche's current Cayenne SUV, Panamera sedan, and 918 Spyder hybrid supercar as "my babies."

Before Porsche, he spent 14 years at BMW where he worked under Wolfgang Reitzle, the Bavarian company's former product leader. Duerheimer's last job at BMW was head of R&D for the motorcycle division. He left for Porsche in 1999.

Duerheimer, who speaks fluent English, attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1981 on a Fulbright Scholarship.

At Bentley, where he replaces longtime CEO Franz-Josef Paefgen, Duerheimer says there is a "lot of passion." He spices his description of the brand with phrases such as "British motoring tradition."

Just two weeks into the job, he was on hand as the limited-edition Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible set a new world speed record on ice. The car reached a speed of 205.48 mph on the frozen waters off the coast of Finland.

(Source: Automotive News)

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