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Bentley will go digital to raise consumer appeal

Updated: Jun 26, 2023 By LI FUSHENG China Daily Print
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Digitalization will prove essential for Bentley Motors' business in China as local customers are getting more tech-savvy, said the top executive of the British luxury vehicle maker's operations in the country.

"Our big growth point is about being able to cater to the Chinese consumer in what I call 'omni-channel'," said Kim Airey, managing director of Bentley Motors Chinese Mainland, Hong Kong and Macao.

By the "omni-channel", Airey refers to giving the customer the freedom of moving seamlessly between digital interaction via their phone to physical interaction at Bentley's brick-and-mortar dealerships.

"Those sorts of things I think we can make some significant strides on. And I think that would be very much welcomed in the Chinese marketplace," said Airey.

He made the remarks in an exclusive interview with China Daily earlier this month, after around 10 days back into the position he held from 2016 to 2020.

Airey now lives in an apartment in Beijing, close to where he lived two and a half years ago. He said when he drives around, it feels like yesterday yet a lot of things remind him of the pace of change in China as well.

One of them is the high level of digitalization, which he believes will be effective in boosting the carmaker's business in the country.

"If we don't make it easy and sympathetic to the Chinese consumer, it will fail. This was one of the things that impressed me most at the 2023 Shanghai auto show. You can see how rapidly that area has developed, with that will be consumer expectations," he said.

Airey said Bentley will develop such a digital ecosystem for the Chinese market, instead of introducing the one from the United Kingdom.

"We have a My Bentley app, which is not available in China. This is something that I absolutely want to see us develop, and I want to make sure that we are set up to access the Chinese ecosystem digitally.

"There are so many facets of the Western ecosystem that don't find its way easily across... we need to build a digital ecosystem that's appropriate for China in order to be able to manage that customer experience," he said.

Airey said digitalization is not about changing what or who Bentley is, but he was quick to add that the brand will not become digital only, as luxury has a lot to do with sensory aspects.

"It's the touch, the feel, the smell, the materials, the design, all of those things too. So I wouldn't want to make it completely sterile to the point of being just digital, but it's about being able to use the digital channel when it's preferred."

Talking about the Chinese market, one of Bentley's largest in the world, Airey said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the market and the demand in China, adding that things seem to be going positively at the moment.

Bentley is not about to expand its network aggressively in China. "I don't think we need many more points, we just need balance.

"If we balance supply, which is our commitment, then the network remains strong, network margins remain strong. And crucially, if the network margins are strong, their customer service remains high. It's a virtuous circle," said Airey.

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