VW to invest pounds 500m in new Bentley model

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THE GERMAN car maker, Volkswagen, yesterday announced plans to invest pounds 500m in the Rolls-Royce and Bentley car models manufactured at the Crewe factory over the next five years.

The investment will boost production of Bentley cars to 9,000 a year, compared with the current output of 2,000 cars a year. Volkswagen's sales and marketing chief, Robert Buechelhofer, speaking to Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealers at the factory, said that the increase in production would be achieved by launching a new medium-sized Bentley model to be sold alongside the existing range of larger models - the Arnage, Continental R and Azure.

In a surprise move in July, Volkswagen's German rival BMW secured the rights to the Rolls-Royce brand name from the year 2003. This left Volkswagen, whose pounds 479m bid had apparently clinched the entire Rolls-Royce Cars company after a competition with BMW, with full ownership of the Bentley name and the Rolls-Royce factory in Crewe.

Volkswagen's bidding victory over BMW in April this year ended almost a century of British ownership of the two luxury marques, and came despite a last-ditch attempt by a group of British Rolls-Royce enthusiasts to come up with an alternative bid for shareholders of Vickers, Rolls-Royce Cars' then owner, to consider.

After winning the rights to the Rolls-Royce name, BMW announced that it intends to build a new UK plant to make Rolls-Royce models from 2003.

Mr Buechelhofer said Volkswagen would keep the group's eight car marque brands, including Rolls-Royce and Bentley, "as independent as possible". Exclusive distribution networks for the Bentley and Rolls-Royce models would be maintained.

He told the car dealers: "Some of you may be concerned about merging the distribution channels. In fact, this is the exact opposite of what has been happening with our four volume marques."

Mr Buechelhofer sought to reassure his audience about Volkswagen's commitment to the Bentley marque. "This is a company with a great history and a great reputation. The reason the Volkswagen Group was so determined to become the new owner... is that an even greater future lies ahead."