DETROIT – Coming off a frightful sales year for ultra-luxury vehicles, Bentley Motors Inc. is poised for an expected rebound in 2010.

Sales fell 49% in the U.S. and 39% worldwide. The Volkswagen AG-owned iconic British auto maker delivered 4,616 vehicles in 2009. That compares with a peak year in 2007 with sales of 10,000 units.

To cope with the drop in business, Bentley has cut 10% of its 4,000 workforce, says Christophe Georges, president and chief operating officer.

The auto maker also dialed down production at its plant in Crewe, U.K. “It was important not to push products on the market,” because of the brand’s aura of exclusivity, he tells Ward’s at the North American International Auto Show here.

“We reduced production but maintained investment in new products to safeguard the long-term value of the Bentley brand,” Georges says. “That was a responsible decision.”

Bentley is showing two vehicles at the Detroit show, where it is the only ultra-luxury auto maker with its own exhibit. On display for the first time is the all-new Mulsanne flagship. Sharing the stage is the Series 51 edition of the Continental GTC convertible.

The Mulsanne goes on sale this fall as the brand’s new flagship, starting at $285,000. It features a 6.75L engine with 505 hp and a new chassis that is stiffer and lighter.

Customers can choose from 114 paint and 21 carpet colors, nine wood veneers and 24 leather hides that are specially tanned to preserve their distinctive scent. Creating each interior takes 170 worker hours.

“The Mulsanne is the pinnacle of European luxury, built from the ground up,” says Ulrich Eichhorn, Bentley’s chief engineer.

He adds: “We’re cautiously optimistic for 2010, but we have the right products for when the expected rebound occurs in the second half of 2010.”

For Bentley, success in 2009 was measured in small amounts. Among those is the fact that it lost none of the 46 dealers in its U.S. retail network, Georges say.

Another positive: “Our customer satisfaction scores were at their highest.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com