Mercedes-Benz began selling the ML in 1997. Seemingly more of a stretch, along came the BMW X5 two years later.
Then Porsche, not just a luxury carmaker but the preeminent German sports car builder, pulled the same stunt with the Cayenne in 2003. The move doesnâ€™t seem so crazy now that Porsche produces 60 percent of its U.S. sales by way of the Cayenne and its little brother, the Macan.
Indeed, there were no surprises when earlier this year, in one fell swoop, the F-Pace became Jaguarâ€™s best-selling model in its first month on the market, outselling the newly re-launched XF and the brand new XE right from the start.
But can the same strategy be replicated further upmarket? Much further upmarket, at a $232,000 price point? At a brand which suffered a 46-percent year-over-year sales decline in 2016â€™s first seven months?
Most definitely. The Bentayga is to Bentley what the Cayenne became to Porsche, what the F-Pace has already become at Jaguar. Only more so.
Ugly doesnâ€™t seem so stand in the way of upmarket SUV success. The first Porsche Cayenne was nothing if not stylistically challenged, yet by 2006 the Cayenne was Porsche USAâ€™s best-selling model, accounting for 43 percent of the brandâ€™s sales.With a face (and body) only a mother (and a slew of well-heeled buyers) could love, in the words of our own Steph Willems, the Bentayga may not be as ghastly as its EXP 9 F concept forerunner, but itâ€™s no F-Pace. Itâ€™s no Range Rover. Letâ€™s be honest: the Bentayga doesnâ€™t hold a candle to the Mazda CX-3.
Subjective styling analysis aside â€” even if the TTAC masthead and BB is largely in agreement â€” we do know that Bentley sales were in the toilet heading into August.
Following an end-of-year surge to 581 sales circa Christmas 2015, Bentley volume decreased in seven consecutive months, year-over-year. U.S. sales in January and February fell into double-digits for just the second and third time in 61 months. February volume, in fact, tumbled to a 67-month low. Through July 2016, Bentley was on track for its worst U.S. sales year since 2010, when the recession blues had caused Bentley volume to plunge by two-thirds from its 2007 peak.SUVs to the rescue! After averaging 113 monthly sales between January and July, Bentley reported 399 sales in August 2016, the first month of Bentayga sales, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
There was little help from the Volkswagen-owned, British brandâ€™s establishment. Other Bentleys tumbled 23 percent, though the Mulsanne flagship recorded an eight-unit uptick to 19 sales. Flying Spur volume was cut in half. Continental GT volume decreased 8 percent.
The Bentayga generated 56 percent of all Bentley sales. Pent-up demand for a long-awaited model â€” yes, people put their names on waiting lists for vehicles this hideous â€” explains a portion of the Bentaygaâ€™s possibly exaggerated first-month success. But who are we kidding: specific trim levels of the Range Rover aside, the market has largely been devoid of an ultra-high-end luxury SUV to line up alongside Mulsannes and Phantoms and Rapides and Maybachs.Â It won’t be surprising to see long-term demand for the Bentayga.
If the Bentayga was the only Bentley on sale in America in August, its 223 sales would still have produced Bentleyâ€™s best month of sales this year, and by a long shot.
By the standards of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, crossovers that routinely attract more than 30,000 buyers every month, the Bentayga is undoubtedly a rare beast. Yet in August, the big Bentley wasnâ€™t that much more uncommon than some far more affordable utilities. Lincoln sold 273 MKTs in August; Toyota reported 270 Land Cruiser sales.
[Charts: Â© The Truth About Cars; Image: Bentley; Bentley sales source: Automotive News Data Center]
Timothy Cain is the founder ofÂ GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcarÂ and on Facebook.