Bentley is making world’s most expensive SUV in its old British hometown

Welcome to Crewe, England.
Welcome to Crewe, England.
Image: AP / Martin Rickett
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Luxury carmaker Bentley Motors said today that it’s building the world’s priciest, fastest, and—well—luxuriest sports utility vehicle. The car, to cost upwards of £150,000 ($230,300) when it goes on sale in 2016, will be made in the small northwestern British town of Crewe, where the manufacturer has produced cars since the end of World War II.

The news highlights one of the UK’s few economic success stories of late: a reviving automotive manufacturing industry. The country’s relatively flexible labor market, friendly corporate tax regime, investment by carmakers, and demand for high-end British cars like Bentley from emerging markets (namely China) have propped up the high-end auto sector.

In May, Fiat Industrial, the Italian maker of trucks and tractors, said it was moving its head offices to the UK, in search of a lower tax rate. Last year, the UK exported more cars than ever before (paywall). Analysts say the industry is in the best shape it’s been since the 1960s, before the industry buckled under competition from Japan and former prime minister Margaret Thatcher nationalized British Leyland, then the country’s largest car manufacturer.

The return of such a major manufacturing niche to the British economy, which critics say is too dependent on its financial services sector, would be an untarnished success if not for the fact that almost none of the major automotive plants in the country are owned by British firms. Bentley is owned by Germany’s Volkswagen, for example. The industry is dominated by foreign firms like India’s Tata Motors, which owns Jaguar Land Rover, Japan’s Nissan, Toyota, and Honda, America’s General Motors and Germany’s BMW.

That’s why it is something of a coup for the iconic British brand to bring production of the car to its home operation in Crewe, a town of about 67,000. Wolfgang Schreiber, Bentley’s chairman, said that the Crewe location had won approval to produce the pricey SUV over Bratislava, Slovakia (paywall), where Volkswagen’s Audi SUVs are made. Now, Volkswagen and Bentley will invest £800 million over the next three years in its British plant. Bentley says the production of the car should add 1,000 jobs.