Bentley Speed 6 production: not so much if but when

Published: 29 June 2015

 Speed 6 sports car or another SUV
► Bentley gunning for 20,000 sales a year
► Why 4wd is central to Crewe's future plans

Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer has given the clearest hint yet that the British luxury marque will put the fabulous EXP10 Speed 6 concept into production.

Speaking to CAR at the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Bentley chairman and CEO confirmed that a new two-seater sports car below the four-seater Continental GT is one of two proposals presently under consideration for the next Bentley model line.

The alternative proposal is to build additional derivatives of the Bentayga SUV, following the new off-roader’s launch later in 2015.

Will Bentley build the EXP10 Speed 6 sports car?

Durheimer has a rather dry sense of humour. ‘I think Speed 6 is a good idea,’ he says, possibly practising his pitch for the main VW Group board. ‘This is also the opinion of out customers that we clinicked around the world.

‘We are experiencing stunning results from this market research. It will be a head-to-head race [between the Speed 6 and another SUV], and I think the question is not which one we do and which one we don’t, the question is which one we do first.’

Wolfgang Dürheimer drops hint that the Speed 6 concept will enter production, the when is unknown

Bentley’s board member for sales and marketing, Kevin Rose, puts the case for the Speed 6 very strongly: ‘Obviously we showed it in Geneva to a great reception. More formally we took it around the world and did customer clinics. I’ve been in the business quite a long time. Honestly, they were the best results I’ve seen – in terms of “fit with the brand”, “yes, I want it”, and “make it now”. The scores were off the chart. The idea of Bentley having a two-seater sports car was incredibly well received.’

That’s not actually a confirmation the Speed 6 will be built though, is it?

Patience, young Padawan. Durheimer went on to talk about Bentley production figures, not only reminding us that in 2014 the firm sold 11,020 cars (a record) but also stating that ‘with these two products [Bentayga and Speed 6] we approach 20,000 cars. That means our company will double in size by the end of the EXP10 Speed 6 market approach.’

That sounds like pretty serious intent to us.

To support all this additional model activity, Bentley’s factory site in Crew is currently undergoing an £840 million investment programme, which includes ‘new production systems’ and the construction of a brand spanking new engineering centre.

So when will the Bentley Speed 6 go on sale, and are there any technical details?

During the record sales announcement in January 2015, Durheimer said he expects Bentley to be finding homes for 15,000 cars a year by 2018. With the Bentayga set to account for around 3000 of these and the number of buyers in the luxury segment continuing to grow, Speed 6 would likely follow after this point but before the end of the decade.

With pricing starting at circa £100,000, the smaller two-seater is unlikely to cannibalise sales of the more expensive Continental GT as most of Bentley’s existing customers own ‘between six and eight cars’, and would simple add it as an addition to their stable. Speed 6 should also bring new customers to the brand, in a manner similar to the success enjoyed by the Ferrari California.

No exact technical details have been announced, but Bentley member of the board for engineering Rolf Frech was on hand to explain Bentley would ‘take what we need for the car’ from elsewhere in the VW Group. This could mean the new MLB platform that underpins the latest Q7 and the next VW Phaeton, or the forthcoming MSB platform that will be used by the third-generation Bentley Continental GT and Mk2 Porsche Panamera. However, it is absolutely certain that the Bentley Speed 6 will be four-wheel drive.

Why is four-wheel drive so important to Bentley?

Because not only does tech chief Frech believe that four-wheel drive is now a Bentley must, according to sales chief Rose it significantly increases Bentley’s market traction (pun intended). Frech’s engineering argument is two-fold: safety and dynamic performance. Four-wheel drive gives customers an ‘advantage if it’s getting slippery’, but you can also ‘do so much more’ with torque vectoring and other enabling four-wheel drive technologies.  

Rose puts the benefits in even more compelling terms: ‘90% of our sales are outside of the UK, so we’re selling into all kinds of conditions. And on strong balance, having four-wheel drive takes us into markets we couldn’t otherwise get into.’ Bentley wouldn’t be the brand it is today without it.

What about these other SUV variants? Will they be smaller than Bentayga?

Rose has previously acknowledged that Bentley could theoretically look to take on the Range Rover Sport – or even the Evoque. But at Goodwood Durheimer was clear: ‘Bigger is better.’

The Speed 6 rival for production priority is not a smaller Bentley SUV but a Bentayga variant. Given Bentley’s determination to remind everyone that it is a driver’s brand, with particular reference to the escapades of the original Bentley Boys (and the current GT3 race programme), a Bentley SUV coupe in the manner of an ultra-lux BMW X6 could well be on the cards. 

The Bentley Bentayga during winter testing. Bentley's new SUV is set to be a variant

And you thought the Bentayga was already controversial... Any second, smaller SUV family is ‘further down the line’ according to Dürheimer, and not in the ‘primary’ plan.

Is Bentayga on schedule?

Bentayga ‘SOP’ – that’s Start Of Production – is set for 27 November 2015, and according to Durheimer it’s ‘almost ready’. We’ll see the final version at the Frankfurt motor show in September. 

Presumably Bentayga is more about mounting pavements than going properly off-road?

Not quite. Bentayga has already driven up the back – which is to say steeper – side of Dubai’s notorious ‘red dune’ in prototype testing (that’s like the Nürburgring of off-roading or something), and has also been sent to scale glaciers, about which we’ll be hearing more shortly. This is a proper piece of kit.

‘Do we assume that our customers will go there?’ asks Durheimer. ‘Of course not.’ This is not about what customers will do with the car, but how ‘safe’ it makes them feel. Dürheimer calls it ‘escape potential,’ the understanding that you are driving a car that has the ability to cope with the worst possible conditions. ‘If someone makes it, you make it.’ Psychological, maybe, but also an important marketing tool. ‘Even though we emphasise the luxurious side of the SUV, an SUV is meant to be able to do some work off-road. We are not talking about it, we are proving it. We have the necessary pictures, and as a market entry strategy we can seriously invite our customers to test it when they want.’

Last two questions. Firstly, will there be an electric Bentley?

‘No,’ said Durheimer. It’s no secret that the firm will add a plug-in hybrid to each model line in the future, but an all-electric Bentley is not in the planning at this stage. The technology is just too inconvenient for its customers.

Durheimer speaks of modern luxury needing to be ‘effortless’, and to this end Rose says even current plug-in hybrid tech isn’t satisfactory. Bentley will tackle this initially with a charging ‘wallbox’ with a motorised retracting cable, but is already hard at work on inductive charging. This means customers won’t have to deal with a plug at all, yet will still get the emissions, refinement and performance benefits electric drive systems offer.

Finally then, will there be an autonomous Bentley?

Bentley is not ignoring the brave new world of the connected car – it can’t afford to; as Rose explains, most of its customers are ‘now actually entrepreneurs of one kind or another’. But there’s a difference between a connected car and a luxury connect car. In Rose’s example, future Bentley sat-navs won’t just find the cheapest petrol or the nearest, it’ll find the fuel station that offers attendant service. Right.

Durheimer’s take on self-driving cars is similarly forthright: ‘We already have the luxurious style of autonomous driving. This is the driver our customer usually has. The customer doesn’t need to learn how to communicate with the system, which buttons to press and the thing takes over – the driver is available when they need him. This is the luxurious approach we take to this subject.’

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count