Bentley today announced an aggressive transformation, from a company that has seen great success selling vehicles powered by massive internal combustion engines to one that will not sell any—all in slightly less than a decade. This will happen in two steps: a phase-in of electrification, and a few years later, a complete phase-out of internal combustion engines. Bentley will be a fully battery-electric vehicle company by 2030. No more W-12 engines, no more V-8s or turbos—just the silent thrust provided by flowing electrons.
The company, like many others, has hinted at an electric direction for years. In 2017, for example, the company showed off the slinky but ponderously-named EXP 12 Speed 6e convertible concept. And more poignantly, the EXP 100 GT concept was revealed last year for the company’s centennial, remixing some heritage homages with a bold style and four electric motors. But its first electrified vehicle is more practical: the 2020 Bentayga Hybrid, which borrows the PHEV system from the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid—a nice benefit of Bentley’s VW Group ownership.
The Bentayga Hybrid is the first step along an incremental path. By 2023, all Bentleys will offer a hybrid option. By 2026, there will be no non-electrified vehicles in the company’s lineup. The 2025 EV will be part of a family of EVs, and by 2030 as previously mentioned, there will be no internal combustion engines at all produced by Bentley. In the immediate future, we can expect two new PHEVs in 2021. Automotive News Europe reports these will likely be the Flying Spur and Continental GT, something Bentley hasn’t confirmed.
The timing of the upcoming EV has more to do with the availability of this all-new platform than other considerations, Dr. Matthias Rabe, Member of the Board for Engineering at Bentley, noted during the presentation. That is to say, Bentley’s not waiting on some future advancement in battery tech, but rather predicts an ongoing incremental improvement in storage capacity and size. Development is underway, and the company promises that the main aesthetic criteria that govern current Bentley models—that even without a badge, they’d be easily recognizable as a Bentley—will govern their future products as well.
Not that we should necessarily expect an electric version of the status quo, says Chris Craft, Member of the Board for Sales and Marketing at Bentley. The company promises a modern evolution that communicates the EV’s nature, without completely reimagining Bentley’s design language.
The company is also confident that buyers are ready for such a major transition. Craft notes that “effortless progression” is and has always been a defining characteristic for this sporting luxury brand, and EVs are particularly well-suited to deliver this. A little more than half of current Bentley customers surveyed by the brand would consider a Bentley EV, and the company’s banking on this figure increasing as the transition occurs.
Nor is the company very worried that infrastructure issues will reduce demand for its electrified products. In the leading markets for its high-end products, Bentley notes, the infrastructure is being implemented at the scale the company needs to make its EV sales feasible—particularly in China. Of course, the math is different for a niche, high-end automaker than automakers wrestling with higher-volume lower-cost EVs and the unique infrastructure challenges those present.
In addition to the changes to its product lines, Bentley aims to meet several sustainability targets in the future. The company’s factory is already carbon neutral and has been for two years, but today’s announcement commits the company to end-to-end carbon neutrality by 2030 and a “climate positive” factory by the same year. In the meantime, the company promises to reduce the use of solvents, become plastic neutral, and focus on reducing energy consumption and various waste products.
The company also thinks there’s a role for its bespoke division, Mulliner, in this new future Bentley is creating for itself. As Craft notes, its customer base prizes both rarity and customization, and there’s no reason to think a shift in powertrain technology will affect what its high-end clientele prefer. In some ways, the freedom that Mulliner has to explore new themes and remix existing ones will likely guide future product design.