A battery-powered Bentley could open the door to a new age of British luxury motoring.
As the famed British brand focusses on the potential for an inner-city runabout, it’s more likely to focus on young professionals than its old-school owners.
'Green motoring' is becoming more of a priority as the first wave of millennials begins to edge out baby boomers in prestige showrooms, and Bentley is no exception.
The marque is pushing ahead with plans for a fully-electric car that will be outside its existing lineup, as part of a strategy which also includes plug-in petrol-electric hybrids.
“We are thinking about introducing one model which is completely electric,” the head of engineering at Bentley, Dr Werner Tietz, tells Australian Business Traveller during a rare visit to Australia.
Hybrid cars are well established around the world, plug-in hybrids promise more fully-electric running with petrol-powered convenience, but it’s battery-only models – similar to Tesla, but from mainstream prestige makers – which will bring the big breakthrough.
They are also expected to draw many more millennials into motoring.
Tietz's trip comes as Bentley celebrates the centenary of its foundation with everything from a renewed racing program targeted at younger owners – including the 30-somethings who dominate sales in China – to a showroom push with its latest Continental GT Convertible (below) and the Bentayga SUV that’s now the top choice with around half of the brand’s buyers.
“Our target by 2025 is to have at least one electrified version in every model line,” Tietz confirms. “We are well on the way to plug-in hybrid. We think it is the best solution for Bentley at the moment, with emission-free driving in towns and still performance outside the cities.”
Bentley is about to unveil a born-again Speed Six model as part of its 100th birthday party, as well as a ‘blue sky’ concept car. “It’s our vision of a luxury car in the future,” Tietz says of the concept car.
“It will show where we are going to, where we are heading. But, of course, with the relationship to the history of Bentley.”
But more and more of his focus is on the challenge of electrifying a Bentley line-up that even includes a 6-litre W12 engine that guzzles fuel at the rate of 14.5 litres/100km.
“It is a time of amazing change. It’s the best time in the automotive industry. I live for problems. If there are no problems I have no fun," he adds with a smile.
"You need challenges every day. If everything is sorted out, and everything runs perfectly, there is no fun.”
Tietz is reluctant to get into detail on the battery-electric future car, but confirms it will be nothing like the BMW i3 which has become a popular inner-city runabout with people who are downsizing into prestige apartments in the world’s major cities.
“It has to be luxury. We are thinking about an extraordinary luxury car for big cities. So this is the direction. We don’t build a small car. It will be a luxury car with enough space to sit in.”
He also confirms that it has no links to anything that’s already in a Bentley showroom.
“That will be a new model. Not a derivative, a new one. That’s our plan,” he says. “It’s easier to do it that way because the package is easier. It is quite difficult to build a flat (floor) electrified car.”