Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

NEW YORK – Bentley Motors Ltd. says its impending green movement won’t compromise performance of the venerable British brand’s ultra-luxury cars.

Under plans announced in Geneva earlier this month, all of Bentley’s engines will be able to run on renewable fuels in additional to gasoline by 2012.

In developing powerful flex-fuel engines similar to those offered by mainstream auto makers such as General Motors Corp., Bentley particularly is interested in biofuels, such as ethanol derived from corn and sugar cane.

“We want to take a leadership role to show what’s possible” from a maker of hand-crafted, low-volume vehicles, Stuart McCullough, Bentley board member-sales and marketing, tells Ward’s at the auto show here.

He declines to say how Bentley plans to reach that commitment. He acknowledges the impending advancement in technology will lead to a “marginal increase” in the price of Bentleys, which currently cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but says it won’t dilute performance.

“What’s important is that we take steps very early on to achieve biofuels flexibility,” McCullough says. “That way, we’ll be ready for an accelerated shift from gasoline to alternative fuels.”

Bentley intends to reduce its cars’ carbon-dioxide tailpipe emissions at least 15% by 2012. The auto maker also plans by then to introduce a new powertrain with a 40% improvement in fuel efficiency.

Bentleys, by virtue of their hefty size and weight, are hardly fuel sippers. But neither are there millions of them gobbling up limited fuel supplies.

Still, McCullough says, “it is not credible for us to say we’re a spit in the ocean. We have to do our part.”

Bentley has seen its global sales increase from 1,000 cars five years ago to more than 10,000 last year. Annual sales won’t go much higher than that, McCullough says, citing capacity constraints and the desire to remain exclusive.

Spurring U.S. sales is continuing demand for the Arnage and Continental models, he says.

Bentley dealerships in the U.S. now stand at 46, with the addition of two new outlets: Bentley Minneapolis and Bentley Honolulu.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com