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Friday, 27 September, 2002, 08:18 GMT 09:18 UK
German car firms corner luxury market
Bentley continental GT
Fancy a Volkswagen? Try the new Bentley continental GT

Bentley's new coupe touring car, the Continental GT, is among the main stars at the Paris Motor Show.

The car caused quite a stir when it was revealed to the media during the press days ahead of the launch; the crowd of journalists turning up at the launch was so thick, it took several minutes for some to even see the car.

Expect nothing less when the show throws its doors open to the public on Saturday.

Bentley's first four-wheel-drive car, which is also the fastest four-seat car in the world, was design-inspired by cars such as the Bentley Speed Six of 1928 and the 1952 R-type Continental.

The car has been built to impress.

Expensive luxury

Bentley interior
The German car makers have been throwing money at their luxury cars

This car is interesting, and not only because it possesses star qualities.

It also marks Volkswagen Group's future as a major player in the high-end market for luxury cars for buyers willing to spend 150,000 and more for a set of wheels.

It is a market which is dominated by the three major German car makers.

Management shake-up

VW bought Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars in 1998, but its competitor BMW and its then boss Bernd Pischetsrieder moved in and snapped up the Rolls-Royce brand.

Since then, Dr Pischetsrieder has been appointed chief executive of VW, while the Rolls-Royce and Bentley chief, Tony Gott, has moved with BMW to a new plant at Goodwood in Sussex to take charge of its new Rolls-Royce project.

As such, it seems Dr Pischetsrieder inadvertently shot himself in the foot.

Thus hot on the heels of VW's Bentley, the new Rolls-Royce is set to be launched in January - when BMW formally takes over the marque.

And with the third major German car maker DaimlerChrysler's hungry for a slice of the pie, there will be yet another competitor to face up to.

All of them have been pouring money at their new brands, and this raises the question: can any of them make any money?

"All three of the companies recognised that the disposable income and wealth has grown considerably over the last few decades and there is no sign of it slowing down," Rolls-Royce's chief executive, Tony Gott, told BBC News Online.

The third one

DaimlerChrysler's Maybach will be on show in Paris for the first time.

Maybach 57
The Maybach 57, a snip at 300,000 euros
The car was introduced at the Geneva show in March, but only behind a massive, black smokescreen which made it impossible to see whether the car actually had been completed.

"Of course it was finished," a Maybach official told BBC News Online, insisting that it was crucial to introduce this virtually unknown brand in stages.

The Maybach was developed after DaimlerChrysler rejected the option of buying an existing luxury car maker and decided to make its own.

To do this, they went up into the loft to look through some old archives, and out came a dusty folder with details of an old luxury marque which was part of Daimler before World War II.

DaimlerChrysler decided to give its upmarket push the Maybach name, which it insists represents some form of heritage, a real buzz-word in certain sections of the car industry.

New developments

At the same time, all these German newcomers into the market for hyper-luxurious cars insist that they are not making retro cars.

Indeed, they are not.

The new Bentley looks everything but old fashioned.

Similarly, DaimlerChrysler's impressive Maybach is a far cry from older models, logo aside off course.

But although the new Rolls-Royce is a separately governed firm with its own board of directors, the development of its models has obviously relied heavily on BMW's engineering skills.

"I think there is a lot of benefit from gaining competence, which there is a very large amount of within the BMW Group, but then it is how to apply it to this particular challenge," Mr Gott said.

"The solutions, almost invariably throughout the car, are unique. It doesn't bear any close relationship to anything else within the BMW Group."

Goodwood good?

Even more obvious, BMW has been throwing money at the new Rolls-Royce.

It has cost 60m to develop the new site at Goodwood, on top of all the money spent to design and engineer the new car.

The manufacturing plant, which looks more like a building site at the moment, is up and running.

The hide cutters and the wood workers are busy crafting the interior of the car. The engineers and assemblers are working hard developing and clicking together the various bits which make up its chassis and shell.

And all the while, the architects and landscapers are doing their best to bury the project's building, literally, in an effort to make the manufacturing plant blend in with the landscape on the Earl of March's Goodwood estate.

Crowded market

For Maybach, in particular, and even for Bentley, BMW's efforts must be worrying.

For, traditionally, Rolls-Royce has been the big brother of the lot.

"The brand expectations of those three products are very different," said Mr Gott.

"Some of the brands are a little more established than others. Some of them have had a history of absolute excellence throughout the world; Rolls-Royce, it's clear."

The dig at Maybach is thinly disguised.

And its defence sounds unconvincing.

"Our competitors, they had to buy a new brand. They had to buy Rolls-Royce and they had to buy Bentley. We always had Maybach in our company, it was always part of DaimlerChrysler," engineering economist Petra Steinberger of Maybach's marketing and sales team said.

Cars and strategies

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