By on March 27, 2010

With Maybach folding up its tent after an uninspired campaign to unseat Rolls Royce at the top of the luxury sedan heap, only Bentley and Bugatti remain as potential challengers to the Phantom (Geely doesn’t count). Bentley has always had a slight inferiority complex when comparisons to Rollers come up, and though the new Mulsanne offers an alternative to the Phantom, it won’t replace it as the undisputed champion of four-door luxury. No, it seems as though the Volkswagen Group is trying to bracket BMW’s Phantom, with the Mulsanne nipping at its heels, and the Bugatti Galibier concept indicating what on might purchase in order to put all the Phantom owners in their place. It might not be as purely luxurious as the Rolls, but the Bugatti name, the 800 HP and the Galibier’s dramatically opulent looks have the potential to yield an icon capable of unsettling the high-end, four-door order of things. But will it be built? According to Autocar‘s Bugatti sources:

It will be made one way or the other.. We’re the smallest VW Group member and there’s a recession on so we’ve not been a priority. But we can expect to announce something by the summer; it looks good, people like it and it wouldn’t be a great financial commitment in the context of the Group.

But evo Magazine’s Harry Metcalfe says it ain’t so. The Galibier, he says, is over, and with it Bugatti’s ambition to build the world’s most powerful and expensive four-door.

According to Metcalfe, who is known to have friends inside Bugatti (apparently owning 14 cars and an $11k annual insurance premium helps with this), the Galibier was well-received in in the US and Middle East, but potential European customers found it “rather too upright and unremarkable.” As a result, Metcalfe reports that Bugatti is ditching the four-door design for a coupe, which, he argues, would make a better Veyron replacement anyway.

The confusing part? Metcalfe writes in the April issue of evo

Bugatti has gone back to the drawing board and decided to create an exciting, all-black, coupe version of the Galibier, which is being given its world premiere at an invitation-only presentation on the eve of the Geneva show.

Sure enough, pictures of an all-black Bugatti were released at Geneva, but they’re of the four-door Galibier. Huh? With Autocar and evo telling different stories, it’s hard to know what’s actually happening at Bugatti. Perhaps they realized that a sporting Rolls alternative (in the Mulsanne) and a hyper-sporting Rolls-beater in the Galibier was a bridge too far. In either case, and at least for now, the Phantom seems safe in its place as the most status-bestowing four-door on the market.

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21 Comments on “Bugatti Backs Down?...”

  • avatar

    Even if they build the Galibier as a sedan, what will they do after they have built the world’s fastest 4-door? Make the world’s fastest station wagon?

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    Bugatti & Bentley are to VW as space programs are to governments… it’s a prestige project whose value can’t be measured just by the money it makes. It’s about bragging rights, showing off, “aspirational” as the marketers say. If they are losing to Rolls, they need to step it up somehow, not retreat.

  • avatar

    In the olden days, Bentleys didn’t have an inferiority complex to Rollers. Bentleys were the volume Roller, a Roller was a blinged-out, very low volume Bentley. In that league, driving a Bentley gave you “smart shopper” status. Everything broke apart when BMW insisted on owning Rolls and VW could keep Bentley. Now, BMW has to subsist with Rollers built in three digit volumes …

    Volkswagen sold 4,616 Bentleys in 2009, and a total of 50 Bugattis …

  • avatar

    “In the olden days, Bentleys didn’t have an inferiority complex to Rollers. Bentleys were the volume Roller, a Roller was a blinged-out, very low volume Bentley. ”

    Since that whole paragraph is completely backward, I’m trying to figure out the sarcasm. I know I’m supposed to laugh, but, I just can’t.

    Have you been writing for the US version of ‘The Office’?

    • 0 avatar

      Check the numbers and get back to me.

    • 0 avatar

      Bentley= more volume = less exclusive = traditional inferiority complex. We all agree on this, yes?
      In addition to being a “smarter buy” (a tenuous concept at the price points we’re talking about), Bentley has also always offered a more driver-oriented experience, based on its long racing history. In terms of pure status, the Galibier is the only four-door on the horizon with a shot a truly knocking Rolls off its gilded throne.

    • 0 avatar

      In the ‘olden days’, Bentley had nothing to do with Rolls Royce.

      When Rolls-Royce bought Bentley, the Bent became a rebadged ‘sporting’ Rolls. Bent sales were always numerically second to RR, by the late 70’s it was 20:1 RR to Bentleys.

      Parity with RR sales was achieved in 1989ish, and by the mid 90s Bents were the volume car. But, once again, thought we were talking ‘olden days’.

      During the 1930-50ish period, Bents were RR based, but they were differentiated in terms of engine and chassis tuning as well as body. Not until the mid 50’s were Bents basically badge engineered Rollers. The Mulsanne Turbo marked (to most enthusiasts) a re-birth of what W.O. had in mind.

      Yes, Edward, in the current context, I think we agree about the volume thing.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll take back the three digit volumes, I was wrong: In 2009, BMW sold 1002 Rollers.

      When Bentley/Rolls Royce was taken over by VW in 1998, Bentleys outsold Rollers approximately 10:1. At that time, most Rollers were badge-engineered and luxed-out Bentleys. In England, which was the main market, driving a Bentley made the statement: “I’m not stupid. I’m driving a Rolls, but I’m not paying for it.”

    • 0 avatar

      OK, so the ‘old days’ were the 90s.

      In that case, I retract my confusion.

    • 0 avatar

      Back in the days when the two marques were virtually identical except for the radiator grille and Flying Lady, a Bentley bespoke “new money”, while the Rolls-Royce was for “old money”. And for many decades, that WAS the difference.

    • 0 avatar

      “Old money” vs “new money” is one way to look at it.

      “I want to drive my car” vs “I want to be driven in my car” is another. And that’s largely true both before the VW/BMW acquisitions and after.

  • avatar

    Bugatti by name, but certainly not by spirit! For a touch of irony, let’s remember Ettore Bugatti’s response when asked about the Le Mans Bentleys: “Mr Bentley builds the fastest lorries in Europe”.
    Darth Lefty is correct, these monstrosities are like the space programme. Technologically interesting they may be, but the world would not notice their absence.

  • avatar

    I think the youngest Bentley or Bugatti I’d be interested in owning are ones built when they guy whose name is on the badge was still signing his workers’ paychecks.

    At least those would be an appreciating asset.

  • avatar

    Hmm.. Is VW’s Phaeton not good enough?

  • avatar

    Actually, that’s a pretty nice looking Panamera knock-off.

  • avatar

    If they do switch to a coupe, I hope they find a way to preserve that hood. That’s the best modern allusion to old car hoods that anyone has done.

    I haven’t really understood the new sporty 4-door. If you have the means, it seems like you either want to drive something maximally flashy and fast (a sports/GT/superwhatever) or ride in something maximally expensive looking (a Roller, or some such). If you have that money, you can certainly afford both.

    Sports sedans are for guys who can’t get a two-seater, but want a fast car. Wealthy people don’t appear to be in that situation. I’ll be curious to see how the Panamera and and Rapide sell.

  • avatar
    Mark out West

    It’s Rolls that has the inferiority complex. VW scored the Crewe factory, designs, and spares in the acquisition, BMW just the badge and grille. Nowadays, Rollers are simply BMWs – everything’s built at BMW’s plant in Dingolfing Germany and the bodies-in-white are painted and trimmed at Goodwood. Big deal.

    In Crewe, they actually *build* the Mulsanne from individual U.K.-sourced panels into bodies:

    The engine is also entirely cast, milled, and assembled in the U.K. So, in short, the Bentley is simply the more “British” car. And that makes a huge difference.

  • avatar

    I’d take a Century with those woollen seats over any of them. Or an armored 600. Or one of each, depending who I wanted to impress on any given occassion.

    The Roller screams Hotel Car, the “real” Bentleys feel about as modern as a Wrangler, and if I wanted to pay a lot for a Panamera, Porsche’s option list is pretty darned accomodating. Come to think of it, VW is supposedly going to make Porsche drop the current Panamera chassis for an aluminum one shared with Audi for the next generation. So, maybe Bugatti’s where the current one finds a home. Ettore could do a whole lot worse than that.

  • avatar

    It looks angry, as if it wishes to consume Chevy Aveos and other lesser vehicles for lunch.

  • avatar

    They will never reach parity with RR as long as they keep building on those Panamera underpinnings. The car is so very obviously based on a Panamera, and that’s what those picky Europeans are complaining about. Who in their right minds would buy a guzzied up Porsche at ten times the price?

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