Text by Cheryl Tay
Photos courtesy of Wearnes Automotive
Half a decade ago, the people at Bentley Motors never expected that a third of the cars they make would go to China. They knew that it was a market of great potential, hence getting in early, but in all honesty they did not believe the tremendous success it is living out in China today.
When Wearnes Automotive opened the new Bentley showroom in Singapore, Bentley’s regional director for Asia and Middle East Geoff Dowding was in town and I spoke to him at length about how the Asian market has developed significantly in the high-end automotive segment over the past 10 years.
“Today, Bentley exports about 86 to 87 per cent of our cars and the biggest market is China, followed by USA which is about a quarter of our sales. From just 15 per cent in 2007, the Asia and Middle East regions now take up about 42 to 43 per cent of our sales,” Dowding told me during the interview.
According to Dowding, Bentley started as a small outfit in China in 2002 and then slowly but surely worked its way through the market with its distributor. During the years 2008 to 2010 when the automotive industry picked up in China, Bentley had the advantage over its competitors for already having a presence there – the infrastructure, dealer network, distributor structure, service mentality and capabilities were all set up.
Being such a big country, Bentley had to make sure that they are able to provide the necessary support throughout as some customers might buy a car in one part of China and then take it across to another part of the country. Then again, this challenge of providing comprehensive backup and strong support to their customers is eminent throughout the world and not just for China.
“Challenges are no different regardless of the scale of sales or the size of the market. You need to be extremely professional in what you do, you need to provide the right environment for the product to be seen and purchased, provide absolutely the right service and backup, maintain good relationships with your customers, as well as possess great product knowledge and technical capabilities as a dealer.
“All of those things make an ongoing daily evolving process. You take the opportunities and meet the challenges – It doesn’t matter if it is 50 or 5,000 cars, the challenges are the same. For Bentley, people don’t buy our cars as transport solutions and we keep the brand at its exclusive level. It is a statement, a lifestyle, a symbol of status. All of that needs to be handled in the right way for the customer, from the start to a finish, whether it is a small or big market. Every customer is an individual and deserves to be treated as an individual,” said Dowding.
Doing business is China has been interesting for Bentley, Dowding added. For example, he shared with me how 35 per cent of the sales in China are actually through word of mouth. Also, an interesting trend pertinent in China is how it is a strong four-door car market as the Chinese prefer to be driven around. That’s where Bentley hopes to change things, by trying to push forth their two-door models so that customers can enjoy the Bentley driving experience as much as the experience of being driven around in a Bentley.
How else is it like being in the shoes of Dowding? Here’s a little insight into his life at Bentley…
Q&A with Geoff Dowding –
Q: Being in a role like yours, time management is key. How do you achieve a work-life balance?
A: If you enjoy your job, your work-life balance is much easier so you really enjoy what you do. I have a great job that takes me many places and allows me to meet wonderful people. When you enjoy work, you don’t mind the long hours, weekends or travelling – I actually enjoy it. That’s where I get my balance from. If I didn’t enjoy my job then it would be much harder to attain a work-life balance.
Q: In your line of work, you travel a lot – what are some tips do you have as a frequent traveller?
A: Last year I spent nearly 40 per cent of the year away from the desk. This year I’m cutting down on work travel to about 20 to 25 per cent, which isn’t so bad – that means an average of one to one and a half days per week away from the desk. One thing I do when I travel to different cities is that I must take some time out to understand the city so I can get a good feel of its culture. Don’t just go in and see the walls of an office and the hotel room and leave.
Q: You practically think, live, breathe Bentley – how does that feel?
A: I love cars and always have. My father was in the automotive industry, so was my brother and wife and her father. That’s my background – I found myself in the car business and been here ever since. I thoroughly enjoy it! I enjoy reading about cars, studying cars and driving cars on the roads. Of course, I am lucky I get to drive some of the very best cars, which are Bentleys!
Q: How do you think the automotive industry should develop in the future?
A: The car industry will always be there as people will always want personal transport. However the car industry has to really think long and hard about resources in the future for the long-term regarding fuel – be it bio-fuel or diesel or electric cars. Regardless of how the car industry turns in the future, a Bentley still has to feel like a Bentley. In 20 years’ time or more, a Bentley will still be a Grand Tourer.
Q: What can we look forward to from Bentley?
A: We revealed our SUV concept at the Geneva Motor Show and it was met with fantastic response. There is a strong desire on our part to get into that market sector and get this SUV concept into production, as it gives us greater ability for a more sustainable business, both for ourselves and our dealer partners in the future. The final decision has yet to be made and there’s a lot more background work to be done, but it is a possibility.
Q: Will we see Bentley back in motorsports soon?
A: We would love to get back to motorsports as a brand and maybe one day we will, we don’t know now, but we must be able to afford it. At the moment one of the reasons why we are not in motorsports is because all our money goes into new model development, but there is a desire internally to go back into motorsports though.
*This was first published in Autogridz.