x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Bentley adapts to testing times

News In the past year, Bentley sales in the Middle East has risen from 5 per cent to 15 per cent.

You would expect, given the current economic climate, that Chris Buxton would rather be motoring along the picturesque roads around Scotland's Loch Lomond in a classic S2, than marshalling the fate of his brand. The reality is that Bentley's regional director is rather content surveying this region from his office on Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road in spite of the recession that has rocked the company in its more traditional markets.

Whereas a year ago Bentley's Middle East sales made for just 5 per cent of the total market, the Middle East is currently responsible for 15 per cent, turning his office into the biggest player for the company. "We are cushioned by money sales here, so the credit crunch doesn't come into play" says Buxton. "What's more, buying a new luxury car presents no social stigma, as it might do elsewhere. We haven't had a recession, just a dip, that's why much of the world comes to the Gulf for financial support."

In January, Buxton's Middle East, Africa and India region's year-to-date figures were 21 per cent down on last year; but come June, the figure had narrowed to just 7 per cent. As a result, Buxton is hoping the year-end numbers will be the same as they were in 2008, if not a little better. "We are lucky we are Bentley," he continues, adding that luxury cars have an advantage in wealthy markets. "The product we offer is exactly what people want: it is bespoke. For instance, we have just received an order from Qatar for a three-tone car. Our factory is just one of a handful around the world that can respond to that."

But it's not plain sailing for the brand, and Bentley HQ and dealerships are being forced to adapt to the times. "I don't think any dealer realises its full potentials," Buxton admits. "We have had a market that has until now been enjoying stupendous growth. But we are challenged by the need for new policies and programmes so we can capitalise. "There is no real used car market for Bentley yet; there never had to be in the past. We need to look at new streams, like used-car warranties, and get dealers to buy into this."

When Buxton arrived in Dubai seven months ago, the economic slowdown was yet to hit home. Last year was a record one for the car maker in terms of sales and there was little suggestion of the credit crunch on these shores. But now, he says, the change has opened the eyes of his dealers. The dealership infrastructure is improving to coincide with the launch later this year of the Grand, a replacement for the Arnage.

And while the Middle East has grown in importance to Bentley, Crewe, the car maker's home, hasn't taken to demanding the impossible of Buxton. "They aren't pressurising volume, which would kill the brand here," he says. "They are asking me what I need to sell more cars." He assesses it simply: having one car less than the market needs is the way to maintain Bentley's strength. And under Buxton, Bentley remains strong. However, with new models, new dealerships and new challenges on the way, there is plenty for him to do before he can return to Loch Lomond and the S2.