When you think of Bentley, you think of luxury, power and a traditional design that dates back to the automaker's 100-year history. But its next range of all-electric vehicles offers the brand a unique challenge: how to preserve luxury while switching to a new motorist lifestyle linked to a network of charging stations and slow charging cycles?
It won't be easy for a UK car maker to embrace the UK government's aspiration that every car rolls out of assembly in the country is at least powered by hybrid gas and electricity by 2030, and fully electric vehicles (EVs) by 2035. Other countries and US states have set similar timelines - New York and California , for example, have both enacted their own plans to ban the sale of gasoline vehicles in 2035.
Bentley, whose production is based in Crewe, England, gamely announced its own timeline for upgrading its vehicles to more environmentally friendly models: hybrid versions of its fleet by 2023, its first EV in 2025, and delivering its full electric range by 2030.
This seems particularly difficult after the Covid-19 lockdowns which led to Bentley's dismissalst a quarter of its workforce last year. As parts of the world are opening up again, the automaker has invited me to San Diego, for a chance to drive their current cars and hear about their future cars.
This includes the Bentayga hybrid, which I was able to compare to the petrol model traditional - and I didn't feel much of a difference. The driving feel and performance was almost the same, and I couldn't really tell when the car went from electric to gasoline. interior trim, on the other hand, was of an identical standard of high quality.
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Although I didn 't have the occasion with the Flying Spur hybrid (it had been announced a few days before), Bentley spoke at length about its hybrid projects. the upcoming EV in 2025, sharing vague plans and aspirations but explaining little,
Despite this secret, I've learned several things: the company is circulating design mockups internally and largely finalized the look of the 2025 EV, and they even tested a potential model with consumers. The vehicle may not yet be able to drive, but there are more pressing and quasi-existential questions to be answered first - namely, how much can design change, and whether it is always about. 'a Bentley?
Bentley Electric: a turning point?
Bentley's 2025 EV is something of an existential crisis for an automaker that has built a brand on a traditional decor, by form and feel of conduct. Electric vehicles, most often embodied by Teslas, evoke modern design inside and out, with sleek minimalist exteriors and an interior defined by expansive touchscreens. The contrast between the old and the new is stark: Bentley's automotive design heritage is both a strength and a foothold, a century of identity in which new brands like Tesla are not beholden.
In a morning presentation, Bentley's chief exterior design officer John Paul Gregory illustrated the luxury automaker's most basic design language that lets viewers know what 'They are looking at a Bentley:an iconic silhouette defined by a 'power line' running from the headlight to the rear door that meets a curved 'shank' line above the rear wheel that protrudes enough to be seen in the mirrors, like a slender l lion bracing itself jump. But casual observers can choose Bentleys thanks to their more revealing signifiers - the flat winged "B" icon on the hood and trunk of most models, the "B steering wheel" hood ornaments and silver front grilles on the front. 'classic look.
Tradition dominates Bentley's design language, so much so that its hybrid variants - the Bentayga crossover and the newly released Flying Spur sedan - resemble their petrol versions. And judging by my testing time with the Bentayga hybrid, they drive just like their more conventional gasoline versions, with an identical interior design and sophisticated trim. Bentley wantsits customers are easily switching to hybrid models when it begins offering each of its cars as hybrids by 2023.
But the 2025 EV won't just be an electrified alternative version of a model. existing - it will be an entirely new car, with a completely new design, said Gregory. It will likely borrow a lot from the all-electric 2019 Bentley EXP 100 GT, including its design materials. Whether that means they will incorporate the fallen wood naturally preserved in bogs for millennia or the "leather-l ike seats 'made from the by-products of winemaking, as described by Car and driver , remains to be seen.
"It will be much more modern, much smaller and higher, and more on the integraabout technology, and about how you retain that richness and craftsmanship that you see today, "said Gregory." It's leveraging technology to drive the luxury experience. We manufacture still big enough cars that won't change, but the batteries are distributed in an area on the ground, but the proportions may be different and the design may be different, motivated more by modern expressions and aerodynamic expressions than by luxury.
And given the lengthy design process, it's no surprise to hear that the 2025 EV's look is largely finished, according to Jeff Kuhlman, Bentley's director of communications and marketing. .
"2025 is tomorrow, essentially, in our world. So this design is done, to a large extent," Kuhlman told TechRadar. "The hardest question is, how you design for 2030. It is really important qOur complete range is fully electric. How do you design for that? "
Consumer feedback will influence these vehicles, leaving a lot of unknowns - especially if Bentley decides to transfer the current names and designs to the new all-electric lineup. It would sound appealing - the current Continental GT, for example, is reminiscent of a vehicle of the same name from Bentley's legacy in the 1950s. But more than the legacy, there are the practical possibilities of designing cars without having need to adapt the motors, and what design space that opens up.
"So now you look at how I balance these lines, how I give you get more balanced performance when the weight changed with a battery that sits throughout the car, "Kuhlman said." I would expect designs to change. I would expect performance to be in line with consumers' expectationsateurs - but different, in the sense that they can be silent, but will always have the couple that we have presented. "
EV as control of the image - and evolution of the brand
The elephant in the room is that Bentleys are expensive, even by luxury car standards; the company's most "affordable" model is the Bentayga with a base price of $ 160,000 / £ 177,000 / AU $ 364,800. But everything added from the upgraded tri-panel display to the 'Winged' emblem sewn onto the seats, costs extra.
Asked about the perception of luxury vehicles, Georges, CEO of Bentley North American, considers this: not to think about introducing a lower-cost model, but rather to ask how to improve the image of the brand.
"There are places in the world where luxury cars are not always consideredin a positive way - some places it's 'oh, you are a heavy user of gasoline ' and some places it's 'oh you're rich, how did you get your money ' , Said Georges. "But with electrification, some people will be comfortable showing off their wealth.
The Bentley EV is an apparent solution to several problems, both real and speculated. There is surely a visible benefit to being a more environmentally conscious consumer, but there could be a practice as well.
Georges talks about American buyers and how their electric Bentleys will be able to run in their cities if their lawmakers decide to ban petrol and diesel vehicles, as Paris, Madrid and other European metropolises have already done. It is worth planning, even if the electric car charging network is not yet sufficiently extensive.
"If you do notcan't enter Los Angeles in the future because it emits co2, like the world, what's going on? Maybe you don't have enough charging stations, but if you can't get into a city, what's most painful? Said Georges.
Georges sees this proactive focus on sustainability - including going all-electric by 2030 - part of Bentley's tradition of disrupting the luxury market. And yet, he believes there is a market for electric luxury, and points out that the Porsche Taycan is meeting a market demand. But ultimately climate change happens, he said.
To plan ahead, you design a car early for an estimated lifespan of 5-7 years. , and develop it for years before; according to Georges, it's about making a car to appeal to consumers 11 years later. Pragmatically, this includes restoring the next props.potential Bentley car owners: Millennials, who will account for over 50% of the luxury goods market by 2025, by Forbes .
Appeal to this younger population means embracing sustainability, but also the way they use their luxury items; use, not possession, is more important. Bentley is therefore considering how it can present its vehicles in the leasing market: “It's part of the trend of the younger generation. You don 't need to own it, ”said Georges. "What you buy is the exclusive use of your car and you return it after three years.
Although Bentley does not explicitly considerBefore expanding into the service market, Georges theorized on how his cars might work for renters who want a premium vehicle when they travel: “We did a pilot with Bentley on Demand just for our customers. customers in New York, you go to Los Angeles or Miami and you don't want to get into a regular car, with your you can use Bentley on Demand and more than acceptable fees, ”he said.
Imagine dropping off Bentley at the airport, but you don 't need to hand over a key and only give whoever collects it a phone code to open the doors and the turn on - this is technology that is already under development, including with keyless entry in iOS 15 on certain BMW models. "This is also what the younger generation wants. For the mostrt, they don't want to own the product, they just want to use it. Watch Spotify, ”said Georges.
Bentley EV: driving with compromises
As futuristic as Teslas and other EVs, driving them requires relying on a network of charging stations that aren't as ubi quiet when the gas / petrol shuts off, and they take longer to get your vehicle back to full capacity.
The Bentley executives I spoke with weren't really concerned about how this would limit the grand touring experience their luxury vehicles are built for - and indeed , since every electric car will face the same compromises on range and charging, there is apparently not much that Bentley can do to facilitate this experience by 2025.
Like other automakers, Bentley is at least focusing on the'mitigating this range problem, with the aim of extending it to over 400 miles in the next 15 years, by Car and Driver . But if it takes that long, Bentley will fall behind the competition: Tesla's long-range Model S hits up to 405 miles on one charge, while the Mercedes EQS sedan which should roll off production lines this year at a range of 770 km (~ 480 miles).
Volvo even has claimed it will offer EV models with over 550 miles of range over the next five years. price that the ownersPotential Bentley's will pay off, it's fair to expect more.
But I've discovered a line that Bentley's design won't cross by replicating gasoline-powered cars: replicating the rumble. of a gasoline car muffler with excessive false noise. Georges vehemently rejected the possibility that the Bentley would include technology to acoustically simulate the tuned rumble of a Bentley V8 or W12 engine.
While adding sound to electric vehicles is considered a safety feature for nearby pedestrians, it should be added to cars in the EU, according to The Verge , and engine added by Ford - imitate sounds inside the car optional for the Mustang Mach-E , they are inauthentic from the point of view of the 'Bentley executive.
Rounding off the central concern of electric vehicles: will they be unable to replicate the experience of gasoline enough to diminish the way it feels to drive cars?
Given the ability of soundproofing in Bentley vehicles to block out wind and engine noise, drivers are likely not to notice the quiet electric propulsion of the next electric vehicle. It leaves me perplexed as to each Bentley's reputation for quick acceleration and top speed, and company executives have not commented on how the EV's performance would compare to the current lineup at gasoline / petrol.
There are sports electric vehicles on the market now, so it is possible to attexpect speed and acceleration close to what Bentley's current lineup offers - for example, the Porsche Taycan 4S delivers 490 horsepower (hp) / 360 kW, while the Mercedes EQS 580 4MATIC is expected to deliver of 385 kW with a more powerful AMG model in the future offering an output power of 560 kW.
It's hard to guess how close it will come to the 552 horsepower (hp) / 412 kW / 650 Nm of torque that the Bentley Flying Spur's 12-cylinder W12 engine can deliver without knowing more about the Bentley EV specs, but the competition suggests that it shouldn't be too difficult to achieve comparable performance with the petrol version.
And as for the technology new generation, Bentley isn't shy away from something that could be anathema to its driving experience: autonomous driving.
"We recognize that autonomy is coming, we recognize thatWe wanted to incorporate this technology as part of our future product portfolio and design language, but that the identity of Bentley cars is to drive and to be driven: we had to make sure you got it. 'necessary element to take control of the car "said Gregory.
" Bentley is a driver. car; I think it's just about bringing in the right level of technology for the customer at the right time. Optionality is a luxury; the ability to turn it off is a luxury. "
Ultimately, Bentley gets ahead of the regulatory curve by setting targets before gasoline cars stop running. 'be sold in countries and be completely excluded from cities.
But there is no rush to take the lead of car manufacturers who already have a hold on the electric market (Tesla) or who are putting the bar higher with high-end electric vehiclesme (Mercedes, Porsche).
Instead, Bentley appears to be competing with itself to marry its heritage with new technology, and hone its appeal to the next generation of luxury buyers in the process.
The company seems content to take the time to evolve and refine its electric autonomy to meet its own deadline: five years after the arrival of the first Bentley EV in 2025, the others will completely replace the current range of automobile manufacturer's gasoline and hybrid vehicles.