Bentley Q1 profit soars despite cars lost at sea and stuck in China

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FILE PHOTO: A logo of Bentley is seen outside a Bentley car dealer in Brussels

By Nick Carey

LONDON (Reuters) – Luxury British carmaker Bentley on Thursday said its first-quarter operating profit jumped 162% versus the same period last year, as soaring vehicle prices offset the loss of some cars at sea and pandemic-related delivery problems in China.

The Volkswagen unit said high customer interest in new models resulted in a record order book of just under 10,000 vehicles for the 102-year-old carmaker.

Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark said that about 200 cars, around 75 of them highly customized orders for specific customers, bound for the U.S. market went down on a ship that caught fire off the Azores in February. Hallmark said those sales were largely recovered in April.

Chinese sales were hit by pandemic shutdowns, which also affected the ability to transport cars inland by truck.

“The crises that we’ve had with COVID, semiconductors and now the tragedy in Ukraine have not dented customers’ willingness to invest in high luxury goods and certainly not in Bentleys,” Hallmark told Reuters. “We’re really doing well.”

The sales dip follows a record year for Bentley in 2021, as pandemic travel restrictions left wealthy consumers with more disposable income, lifting premium and luxury car sales in key global markets like China and the United States.

Hallmark said absent any further supply chain issues, the company could produce around 15,000 cars this year, compared with the 14,659 it sold last year.

First-quarter vehicle sales fell 5% to 3,203 units from 3,358 a year earlier, with sales down 9% in the Americas and 29% in China.

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But the average revenue per car rose 15% to 212,000 euros ($223,257) from 184,000 euros a year earlier, as customers opted for more personalized options. Hallmark said customers have embraced the ability to personalize seat leathers, stitching, seating configurations and a myriad of other options.

“Dealers are doing limited editions, special packages for individual customers, and it’s just getting more and more popular,” he said.

Revenue at Bentley was up 41% at 813 million euros versus 578 million a year earlier, and the carmaker’s operating profit rose to 170 million euros from 65 million euros.

Profits were also partly lifted by a restructuring program that began in 2018.

($1 = 0.9496 euros)

(Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Leslie Adler)