The Geneva Motor Show 2012 is in full swing and motoring journalists all over Europe have been poring over the latest metal from automotive manufacturers the world over. The show is an opportunity to show off the hottest new product, ranging from new technologies and design features to outlandish concepts and highly sought after supercars.
Sure, I could sit here and talk about the ball-achingly sexy Lamborghini Aventador J, a one-off mental chopped up Aventador that has been sold for $2.8million to one very lucky person. I could be really technical and look at Toyota’s green technology showcased in their bubble of fun FT-Bh concept. But these subjects have been done to death and I want to talk about a slightly different subject. I want to look at the positive side to Bentley’s controversial EXP 9 F SUV concept (well, they’re calling it a concept but it seems about as production ready as a concept is likely to get).
Firstly I should explain what it is. It is potentially the ugliest car to be smuggled out of a motoring factory in the dead of night since those Chinese copy cat cars were hot topic. Seriously, just look at it. It is trying to uphold Bentley’s current butch-elegance design language but it just fails miserably. It can’t decide whether to be blocky or curvy and ends up being neither. The only (arguably) inoffensive angle is its profile, where it kind of looks like a typical Range Rover. A typical Range Rover that has been mauled by a tasteless rapper, mind.
Bentley call it a ‘design concept’, and the only concept they can really be toying with is whether they can still sell a car that even their designers must be ashamed of. But let us be objective for a moment. No, it isn’t what you would typically call a Bentley, but doesn’t the point lie therein? Bentley’s Director of Design, Dirk van Braeckel, says:
“EXP 9 F had to represent the absolute pinnacle of the sport utility sector, setting a new benchmark for this type of vehicle. The style had to reflect Bentley’s sporting character despite its radically different package and purpose together with sculptured, flowing surfaces in keeping with the Bentley tradition.”
Okay so I left the second part of that quote in purely so you could all see where they were aiming, even if they clearly missed the mark. But the key thing to take from van Braeckel is the aim to be the ‘pinnacle of the sport utility sector’. They’re not concerned, necessarily, with it being a beautifully elegant sports car. They clearly accept that this is a ‘radically different package’ and they’re trying to create something different.
Don’t worry, I’m getting to the part where I justify my claims that the EXP 9 F and its ilk are good for car nuts, and to do this I need you to think Porsche Cayenne. Upon its announcement, the motoring world was disappointed to see such an iconic sports car maker cater to rich mums and the school run, but it makes business sense. Why limit yourselves to relatively low sales of your sports cars when you can sell vast numbers of these luxury SUVs and feed that huge income into your sports car program. Even in 2011, demand for the Cayenne was so high they increased production to help cut waiting lists of up to 12 months in some areas.
Emerging markets are huge business, and the likes of China demand these types of vehicles. It is one of the countries suffering those huge waiting lists, and its clear that the Sheikhs and oil barons love these cars, too. In this difficult economic climate, companies can help themselves survive by catering to emerging markets and new audiences. Companies like Porsche, Maserati and now Bentley can drift away from their traditions, but continue to produce exceptional cars that make enthusiasts moist. Even Ferrari made the FF because its buyers wanted something more practical.
To sum up my point, I give you the Porsche GT3 RS 4.0. Widely regarded as the wonderful culmination of all the work put into the 997 series of 911s and instantly became one of the most incredible sports cars ever created. Without the Cayenne’s huge sales it would still have been a great car, there’s no doubt about that. Porsche have been doing that for decades. But that increased revenue allowed for greater research, bigger technological advancements and even more rigorous testing. So the question is… just how much of the GT3 RS 4.0’s brilliance is down to those huge Cayenne sales?