Bentley Motors’ plans to add a sport-utility vehicle to its range of luxury limousines and coupes are in limbo, more than a year after executives showed off a concept version of the car.
Despite strong global demand for upmarket SUVs and expectations the car would go into production soon, the U.K.-based auto maker still hasn’t got the green light from Volkswagen AG, the German company that has owned Bentley since 1998.
A tussle over whether the SUV could best be manufactured at Bentley’s factory in the U.K. or in a Volkswagen luxury-car plant in Slovakia is one reason, according to labor unions at both of the facilities. It isn’t clear how much lobbying each union is doing to win the production line.
Bentley acknowledges that there have been delays but says there is no single reason for this.
Location, styling and costs are all factors being weighed.
The company has said that the SUV prototype had to be rethought after early customer feedback, with the concept model undergoing a “major change” in styling.
“It is now much more in line with the current face of Bentley,” Kevin Rose, Bentley’s director of sales, said at a recent news conference, where he also touched on the issue of manufacturing location. “It is very important to have a strong association with brand and country of origin for all luxury models,” he said. In markets such as China, a “made in Crewe, England” has a strong meaning, he added.
“Absolutely, where the new SUV is to be built is the main sticking point,” said Tony Murphy, policy director & national officer labor union UNITE, which represents 2,500 of the 4,000 workers at Bentley’s plant in Crewe, Cheshire, in north west England.
Mr. Murphy said that Bratislava workers weren’t particularly keen to have Bentleys made in the Slovak plant because of the relatively low number targeted—a couple of thousand—and the adaptations that would have to be made to the plant.
That isn’t the view of Zoroslav Smolinsky, the head of unions at Volkswagen Slovakia. Mr. Smolinsky is confident Bratislava remains a candidate to be a production site for the new model. “We are aware that Bratislava is a candidate for becoming the production site for this Bentley model and our workers will do their best if given a chance,” Mr. Smolinsky said.