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Bentley says access to Europe is crucial as investment decision nears

GENEVA (Reuters) - Volkswagen-owned British car brand Bentley is due to make its next major investment decision on a new model around the start of next year and unfettered access to Europe is vitally important, its boss told Reuters.

The wheel hub of a Bentley is seen during the the 87th International Motor Show at Palexpo in Geneva, Switzerland, March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Bentley, which builds its entire range of luxury models at its site in Crewe in central England, said over 20 percent of sales are made in Europe, which is due to become its largest market this year.

Tariff-free access to the continent for goods and visa-free travel for its staff are key, Chief Executive Wolfgang Duerheimer told Reuters, and the firm was already having frank discussions with British officials about Brexit.

“I have about nine to 12 months where I can wait and see what’s going to happen and then I need to take serious decisions. It’s all connected to future models,” he said during an interview at the Geneva motor show.

“This gives us a bit of breathing space, and also the government, but then I need to have clear commitments.”

Since Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain will leave the single market and could also quit the customs union when it exits the European Union, carmakers have become increasingly concerned about potential trade barriers.

May is due to trigger Article 50 by the end of the month, setting up two years of negotiations leading to Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Bentley has previously built some models outside of Britain at a site in Dresden in eastern Germany to boost capacity.

Duerheimer said there were no plans to move production from Britain at present but it was a possibility in the worst case scenario.

“It’s the Britishness that makes us very unique but we know from... different car brands that this business is a very international one and before we would not produce any Bentleys anymore, we would produce them somewhere else,” he said.

Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Keith Weir