Colourful times for Bentley

Luxury maker looks to shift from conservative hues in search for younger buyers.

Bentley has younger buyers in its sites with a range of bright colours typically reserved for bottom end cars.

Bright green, brilliant red and even retina-searing yellow are seemingly off the agenda in the luxury market, but those colours are exactly what Bentley is showcasing on its latest model, the 330km/h Continental GT Speed.

It's a dramatic change from the conservative, often dull colours – particularly at the top end of the market – that most new car buyers gravitate to.

The aim is to attract younger buyers to a brand that in some countries – Australia included - is more famous for providing back-seat transport to the 86 year-old Elizabeth II than for a car that can outpace many a Ferrari or Porsche.

In fact Australia seems to be one of the main offenders when it comes to choosing a Bentley that blends in with the crowd rather than standing out. The company's figures show that more than 80 per cent of Bentleys sold here are in conservative colours, which is an usually high number by global standards.

In other countries that carry less baggage in terms of Commonwealth and empire Bentley buyers tend to be younger and choose more eye-popping colours. While the global average age for Bentley buyers is 45, in China (Bentley's second biggest market after the USA) the average age is only 28.

The launch line-up for the GT Speed looked more like a box of liquorice allsorts than the usual dull parade of muted hues. Colours with the official titles of Apple Green, St James Red and Continental Yellow stood out like peacocks in a penguin colony.

According to Bentley board member Jan-Henrik Lafrentz the hunt for younger customers started with the cheaper, more fuel efficient GT V8 coupe and future models such as the proposed Bentley SUV will also help.

"If we see an opportunity in the market to make the brand a bit more contemporary while not forgetting the past, because our history is important, then we will take it," he said

"The V8 helps, the colour helps, and maybe there's a bit more stuff coming too, some more significant areas of the market to expand into."

So it's no coincidence that photos of the GT Speed currently popping up in publications feature bright colours, an image deliberately engineered by cars provided at the vehicle's launch.

"A lot of it is about being seen," said Geoff Dowding, regional director for Asia and the Middle East.

"You can go into the retail fashion industry and it's a well known fact that what the shop assistants are wearing is what the people often will buy.

"It's not dissimilar to certain launch colours going into cars and broadening what we have on offer, by showing we have perhaps more creative style than what we've shown in the past with relatively vanilla or safe colours. I think it says a lot more of us and a brand and will prompt more questions from dealers and customers."

Dowding said smaller markets such as Australia pose a particular problem with the company unable to showcase a wide variety of colours and options when so few cars are available for display. So far this year Bentley has sold 49 cars on top of total sales of 61 in 2011.

Resale values of expensive cars with bright colours that might not necessarily appeal to others are notoriously low, acting as another reason why Australian buyers might shy away from being too flashy.

"We had one bright yellow car in our Melbourne showroom not too long ago and while it looked fabulous, it sat there for a long time," Dowding admitted.