February 5, 2015 / 3:33 PM / 3 years ago

Bentley exec sees sales growth slowing as economy prospects darken

DOHA, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Bentley will likely see sales growth of its upscale autos in 2015 fall short of last year’s level, a board member of the British marque told Reuters, as economic uncertainties and the slump in oil prices leave consumers more cautious about luxury purchases.

Last year, the Volkswagen-owned brand delivered a record 11,020 saloons, coupes and convertibles, 9 percent more than the previous year.

But slower growth in China, fears of deflation in Europe, weak oil prices and the threat of Islamic State militants are all factors which may lead to slower sales growth for Bentley, said Kevin Rose, board member for sales and marketing.

“If I was one car ahead of last year, I’d be happy,” Rose told Reuters in an interview in Doha on Thursday. “I‘m taking the balanced view and would say it (growth) will be less.”

Despite the challenges, the 96-year-old brand whose rivals include BMW’s Rolls-Royce and Mercedes has expansion plans including its first sports utility vehicle (SUV). Rose declined to say when the SUV would be launched but said it was likely to be at a major motor show during the year.

The launch is part of a growth plan under which the company last October launched a new version of its flagship Mulsanne saloon, touting the Speed model whose price tag of 324,000 euros ($411,000) makes it Bentley’s most expensive ever as “the world’s fastest ultra-luxury driving experience.”

Overall, group sales last year in the Americas, Bentley’s biggest market, edged up 1.5 percent to 3,186 cars, while in second-biggest market China sales jumped 22 percent to 2,670 cars.

In the Middle East, customers seem to be more cautious about luxury purchases due to oil prices. Rose said so far there had been no cancellations of orders, rather postponing of buying.

“At the moment, no one is getting depressed about the oil price but they are saying ‘let’s wait and see’.”

Sales in the United Arab Emirates are the highest in the region, with Saudi Arabia showing good prospects, helped as in other markets by Bentley’s ability to meet sometimes surprising demands.

“There was a Middle Eastern lady ... who wanted the car colour to match her Dior nail varnish. We had to fly over some metal plates to see if the colour matched and, in the end, it did.” (Editing by David French and David Holmes)

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