► Bentley’s first pure electric car due 2025-26
► Wait due to lack of EV platform and battery tech
► Hybrids of all existing Bentley models by 2023
Bentley has revealed more details of its electrification plan, which includes a pure electric vehicle by '2025 or 2026' and a hybrid version of every model in its range within three years. The strategy, called 'Beyond100', aims 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.
Speaking at the unveil of the facelifted Bentayga, Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark said: 'We have a strong plan to bring a battery electric vehicle to market in the next five or six years. We are on track. Coronavirus has not changed our strategy: we want to become the most sustainable luxury brand in the world.'
Hallmark argues that battery performance is the biggest stumbling block: he vows a Bentley must be able to cover 300 miles at high speeds to live up to its Grand Tourer brand ethos. The question is, will Bentley lose short-term sales to non-luxury brands that can deliver a 300-mile zero emissions range, for customers who value sustainability above luxury?
Bentley boys want EV – what's holding things up?
'Sustainability and climate change matter to our customers,' Hallmark admitted. 'Around 40 per cent of our customers are looking at EVs as their next or next-but-one car. But they won't give up the things they cherish: fantastic interiors, [luxurious] seats that weigh more than others – they are used to high quality experiences.'
Although Bentley showed an electric concept car to mark its centenary last year, a production EV is not yet signed off. It's not just battery cell performance, the problem is there's not yet a suitable EV platform within Volkswagen Group, sources suggest.
Audi and Porsche have collaborated on PPE (Premium Platform Electric) for big and luxury vehicles, and although this has an 800-volt electric architecture to enable fast charging and high performance, it appears to require modification to make it fit Bentley's vision for a sleek and luxurious EV. Nonetheless, sources are adamant that a solution will be green-lit soon.
More hybrids coming soon
Bentley launched its first hybrid with 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).
The Mk1 Bentayga hybrid emits 75g/km – no word on how that will improve with the facelifted version, which has only been shown as a V8 model. The revised Bentayga hybrid will be on UK sale this year, but the 12-cylinder Speed model is being dropped from UK and European price lists.
Bentley is expected to put the hybrid drivetrain into all other models - Flying Spur sedan, Continental GT coupe and GTC convertible - as it makes good on a promise to offer petrol/electric versions of every model within the next three years, Coronavirus-related delays permitting.
The Mulsanne super luxury limousine, the epitome of Bentley luxury and a rival for the Rolls Royce Phantom, will not be a part of that future however. Production has ceased with it likely to be 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, does the EXP 100 GT concept car gives a 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.
But such a bodystyle is unlikely to be the first Bentley EV – a coupe wouldn't sell as well as a crossover or SUV. And while the technology for a luxurious electric Bentley currently doesn’t exist, CEO Hallmark (below) vows it will come.
'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 makes 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.
This article originally appeared on whichcar.com.au, but has been updated