► Bentley’s first pure electric car due by 2026
► Hybrids of all existing Bentley models by 2023
► Mulsanne limousine could be replaced by new SUV
By 2023 Bentley says it will offer a hybrid version of every model in its range and will launch its first fully-electric car by 2026. It’s all part of the plan to make Bentley the first luxury brand in the world, and the first Volkswagen Group brand, to become carbon neutral from factory to showroom floor.
Bentley launched its first hybrid based on the Bentayga SUV in 2019. The high-riding five-door wagon uses the same 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol V6 and electric motor combination as the Porsche Cayenne eHybrid (Porsche is also part of the Volkswagen Group).
Bentley is expected to put this drivetrain into all other models - Flying Spur sedan, Continental GT coupe and GTC convertible - as it makes good on a promise to offer hybrid versions of every model within the next three years.
The Mulsanne super luxury limousine, the last word in Bentley luxury and a rival for the Rolls Royce Phantom, may not be a part of that future, however. It’s likely this model will be replaced by a bigger, more luxurious version of the Bentayga SUV. More on that in a moment.
What about the electric Bentleys?
As for what an electric Bentley will look like, the EXP 100 GT concept car revealed in mid-2019 gives a very strong hint. This 5.8m long, luxurious coupe has a theoretical electric touring range of 640km and can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 2.5 seconds thanks to solid-state batteries and electric motors in all four corners. Theoretically.
While the technology to do that in a two-tonne coupe currently doesn’t exist, Bentley Chairman and CEO Adrian Hallmark (below) says it’s just around the corner.
'With the known roadmap for battery power density improvement, we will be able to build a proper [electric] Bentley by 2025-26.'
'In five to ten years,' says Hallmark, solid-state technology will allow a thirty percent improvement in electric performance. 'So, thirty percent lighter… Or, same weight and thirty percent more range.'
So, what constitutes a 'proper” electric Bentley? Certainly not something that looks like a BMW i3 or a Hyundai Ioniq, says Hallmark.
'We don’t want to build small cars, we want to build Bentleys. We want to build a Bentley that’s got a credible driving range because we are the definitive grand tourer (GT). And a hundred miles isn’t a grand tourer.'
A good range for Bentley 'has got to be 300 miles minimum [500km],' says Hallmark, and it will look, feel and drive like a Bentley. It will have 'the right wheelbase, the right number of occupants, the right overall length, the right height the right shape, the right comfort, refinement and quality'.
The EXP100 GT’s use of a coupe body to preview Bentley’s first electric car was deliberate, says Hallmark. 'Aero has a much bigger effect on battery performance than it does on conventional [internal combustion] engine performance.'
He said, by comparison, packing a Bentayga SUV full of batteries might yield 'quite a big battery … [but] you could get less than 320km range'.
Hallmark says Bentley’s plans for hybridisation and electrification are all part of the brand’s stated goal of being the first Volkswagen Group member to achieve full carbon-neutral status from factory to showroom floor.
'We want to be the first in the Group, and the first in the luxury sector.'
Hallmark says Bentley is ideally placed to achieve that because it is small - compared to other VW Group brands - and therefore doesn’t use a lot of resources to begin with.
'So for us to de-carbonise, for us to make everything transparent from an operational or industrial perspective, is a way smaller challenge that a two, five or ten-million-car company.
'We’ve already got the biggest solar farm - car part farm - in the country out the back, and they are already carbon neutral for manufacturing operations. We’ve already taken that step in October.
'We can see a roadmap … to de-carbonise the factory, to de-carbonise the products, and then to even to the final step of de-carbonising the supply chain. So, we don’t need the [VW] Group’s technology to do a lot apart from some of the vehicle technologies. And the main one is battery technology.'
Electrification is the next big step for all brands, and Bentley is well placed to take the lead - providing its Volkswagen Group owners let it.
Mulsanne luxury saloon could make way for another Bentley SUV
In 2019 Bentley sold 11,006 cars, its seventh consecutive year beyond 10,000, and all the more impressive because it did so without the Flying Spur sedan which historically has been a quarter of the brand’s volume.
About 45 percent of sales were the Bentayga SUV, with the rest largely split between the Continental GT Coupe and Continental GTC convertible. The Mulsanne luxury saloon delivered around five percent of the sales, a far cry from the 25 percent the smaller Flying Spur sedan launched in late-2019 is expected to add, casting doubt over the Rolls Royce Phantom rival’s life expectancy.
'Unfortunately, the customer for that kind of vehicle is disappearing,' says Hallmark. He says Mulsanne buyers typically fell into one of two categories: Under 40s who all live in China, and over 60s who live in the US and Europe.
'That older target group, who are highly affluent and have grown up with that kind of product as being iconic and for them. You get a few music stars and such but it's small, small numbers. They'd much rather have a GT or a Bentayga. So Mulsanne is in a demographic bubble. It appeals to a certain demographic, and as they get older and don't want to spend $400,000 or $500,000 USD on a regular day-to-day car anymore. [Instead] they buy Flying Spur or they buy a Bentayga or another luxury SUV. So the big, big sedans are not so popular.
'If you look at China, every single car we sell has the longer wheelbase. It is half a million pounds each, and every buyer is under 40 years of age, and they're all guys. So, it's a great business, but it's a shrinking business. And even the Chinese buyers, if we did a - not to give you the answer - if we did a longer wheelbase Bentayga, every single one of those Mulsanne customers in China… would take that instead.'
When asked directly if Bentley should add a longer, more luxurious and more expensive SUV above the current Bentayga, Hallmark all-but confirmed it.
'We'd love to make an even more luxurious, even bigger Bentayga. Watch this space.'
And what other SUVs could Bentley add to its current range?
'I can imagine a big one. I can imagine a small one. I can imagine a coupe type one … Would a smaller SUV... If it were cheaper, and we had access to more of the volume beneath us, you could sell more cars. But we don't want to be a big company.
'Now that’s not to say we won’t also expand lower down at some point. But our growth doesn’t have to be only by going to lower price segments with smaller cars.
'We are not fulfilling the potential of the brand where we are.'
From that, it’s clear that Bentley is very much looking up.