Bentley Buyers Can Get Ready for Their SUV

This Bentley SUV concept vehicle was shown in Geneva last year.

SAN DIEGO ( TheStreet) -- The luxury SUV market is about to get a little more crowded and a little bit pricier.

Bentley is developing a sport utility vehicle that some industry insiders predict may be the most expensive in the world.

The company said in a press release that it plans to invest about 800 million British pounds, or $1.2 billion, over the next three years developing the SUV and on building a headquarters in the United Kingdom where the vehicle will be made.

Production of the SUV will create about 1,000 jobs in Crewe, England, according to the release. The expected price of the vehicle was not disclosed, and final design details also remain under wraps. The July release merely said that the SUV will adhere to Bentley brand hallmarks of luxury, performance, quality and craftsmanship.

"We're certainly looking to develop the best, most luxurious SUV on the market," Bentley's Mike Sayer, a product PR manager, said during a recent telephone interview. "And that will command a certain price point, so it may end up being the most expensive, but that's not the target."

The price of the SUV will reflect what the car is made of and how the car feels, Sayer says.

Bentley unveiled a concept version of the SUV at last year's Geneva Motor Show.

Auto industry analysts who attended the show say the exterior of the concept vehicle, which was called the Bentley EXP 9 F, was not well received, but the interior was crafted with Bentley's typical luxury and high style.

"The concept was overstated," says Marty Padgett, editorial director of High Gear Media. "The exterior design was a little bit too much."

"It was a cool vehicle, but clearly pushed the limits more than you will ever see in production. The production version will be tamer, but stately," Padgett adds. "The interior was fantastic. It had gorgeous upholstery, a picnic basket with its own champagne flutes in the cargo area. Hand-stitched leather, chrome and polished aluminum surfaces and an LCD display instead of typical dials."

Other details inside Bentley's SUV that attracted Padgett's attention include fold-down work stations on the rear seats and 10-inch LCD screens.

Sayer acknowledged that the production SUV's styling will not look like what was shown in Geneva.

"The exterior is changing. It is still being changed. It will have to have the right proportions, the right styling lines," Sayer continues. "The styling was an opinion divider."

But no matter what the exterior ends up looking like, Padgett and others say Bentley's entrance into the luxury SUV market, taking on Range Rover on its own turf, is an exciting move.

The luxury SUV market may continue to diversify well beyond just Bentley's offering, Padgett says.

"I think Porsche gave every luxury brand permission to offer an SUV with its Cayenne. The Cayenne feels as authentic as possible. It's the best-handling SUV. As a turbo, it's one of the fastest, if not the fastest," Padgett says. "It gave permission for Bentley, even Jaguar and Lamborghini to build SUVs. The door is now open."

Jaguar has been talking about developing a crossover vehicle, something that would have increased ground clearance and all wheel drive, while still being a sedan, Padgett says. In addition, Aston Martin may jump into the SUV market, says Padgett.

Sayer, meanwhile, does not view the Porsche Cayenne as a direct competitor for the future Bentley SUV.

"It's just a different kind of car, the Porsche. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. It's certainly a competitor in terms of driving performance, but we have more of a focus on luxury craftsmanship," Sayer says.

The Bentley SUV will be the carmakers' fourth model line. Having an SUV to offer existing customers is an important move, Padgett says, one that is essential to retaining customers.

"If you don't' have an SUV your customers are going to go to someone else. You're losing customers." Padgett says. "It really is the final frontier for luxury brands to explore and attack this SUV niche."