Germany's Big Three are pushing to expand volume of their ultra-luxury brands this year, potentially taking the highest-end segment to new heights.
About 5,800 Volkswagen AG's Bentley, BMW AG's Rolls-Royce and DaimlerChrysler AG's Maybach vehicles will be produced this year, according to individual company forecasts.
Bentley and Rolls-Royce unveiled new models at March's Geneva Auto Show. Those may boost demand even more in coming years.
Rolls showed a new concept convertible, the 100EX, Bentley its revamped Arnage. Bentley also is planning a sedan version of its new GT model. The sedan is due in ‘06, with a convertible expected to follow.
Bentley Motors Ltd.'s plant in Crewe, U.K., is producing the GT Coupe for the U.S. It goes on sale this spring and is expected to almost quadruple Bentley's sales in a full year. Bentley forecasts it will build 3,800 cars this year (about 3,000 of them GT Coupes), almost four times any of its competitors.
VW ended production and sales of Rolls-Royce models in January 2003 due to the transfer of ownership to BMW. That came after BMW prevailed in a dispute as to whether it or VW had bought rights to the Rolls-Royce name, arguably the monarch of U.K.-made vehicles.
“Emotionally we miss Rolls-Royce, but not financially,” says Adrian Hallmark, chief of Bentley's marketing division.
BMW got off to a slow start with the Rolls last year but expects to pick up the pace in 2004. Its Goodwood, U.K., plant now is running at full capacity of five cars per day.
Rolls-Royce Chairman Tony Gott expects Rolls to hit the 1,000-unit mark by the end of this year.
“The Rolls-Royce brand is becoming firmly reestablished, he says. “We're beginning to see people becoming more aware of the new Rolls-Royce.”
He adds, “We have to do this thing right and maintain exclusivity. Volume is secondary right now.”
He says brand sensitivity by BMW is helping to achieve a unprecedented degree of excellence.
“I used to dream of making a no-compromise vehicle like this,” says Gott, who headed Rolls under its former owners.
Meanwhile, DaimlerChrysler sticks to its target of selling 1,000 Maybachs this year after a slower-than-anticipated launch last year.
Six hundred Maybachs were produced then, 166 of which were delivered in the U.S. through authorized Mercedes-Benz dealers.
Mercedes will build 1,000 Maybachs this year, with U.S. sales of about 400, predicts Juergen Hubbert, a member of the DaimlerChrysler board of management.
Bentley's Hallmark doubts his main competitors will hit their 1,000-unit forecasts. He predicts Maybach and Rolls actually will bring Bentley more customers.