By Poornima Gupta
British carmaker Bentley, owned by Volkswagen, is seeing some signs of revival in the super luxury vehicle segment and expects sales of premium cars to improve next year, one of its top executives said on Friday.
"We can see some movement. There is some activity going on," said Christophe Georges, chief operating officer of the Americas division. "We expect the last part of this year to be a little better."
He added, "2010 should be the start of a new business cycle."
Georges, who spoke on the sidelines of a media event, was in San Francisco to unveil the iconic British manufacturer's new flagship model Mulsanne. The new sedan will replace the Arnage, which starts at about $225,000.
The Mulsanne, aimed at the super-wealthy, will go on sale in Europe next summer and will make its debut in the U.S. market in third quarter of 2010. It will also be displayed at the Frankfurt Motor Show next week.
Georges declined to reveal the price of the Mulsanne. The least expensive Bentley, the Continental Flying Spur model, starts at $191,500.
Based in Crewe, England, Bentley is also getting ready to launch a sports car. The Continental Supersports can run on ethanol and accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds.
Super-luxury carmakers, typically immune to the boom-and-bust cycles that affect their mass-market counterparts, were hurt in the past year by the fallout from the credit crisis and the economic slowdown.
The wealthy shunned luxury cars during the recession as they saw their net worth decline following the collapse in financial markets and real-estate values.
Bentley's U.S. sales are down 57 percent to 863 units through August this year.
"Luxury has a reputation for being immune to recessions," Georges said. "The (current) crisis has severely affected the overall luxury market."
Bentley has seen customers put off purchases for hand-made vehicles that take an average of nine weeks to build.
"Customers are there but they have postponed their purchases because of lack of confidence", Georges said.
So far this year, U.S. sales of "super luxury" cars -- models from Bentley, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Maybach -- are down 52 percent, according to industry tracking service AutoData.
The segment has underperformed the overall U.S. car market, which was down 28 percent.
The overall luxury segment, which includes Lexus, BMW and others, was down 32 percent through August this year.