How will Bentley become an electric-only luxury brand, what models will we see during the transition, and what pains are being taken to appease North American buyers? We posed these questions to Christophe Georges, president and CEO of Bentley Motors in the Americas.
"We will have a new full lineup of electric cars," Georges says in his interview with MotorTrend. The first pure EV will be a new nameplate, but subsequent launches will include electric versions of existing nameplates. The cautious Georges won't provide confirmation or details on the body style but is forthright on how the brand will evolve and what it means for U.S. buyers.
Next up is a hybrid version of the Bentley Continental GT coupe and convertible which we will see soon, Georges says, without giving a launch date. Spy shots have caught the Continental GT out testing. In all three cases, engineers electrified the existing vehicles.
The five battery-electric vehicles to come will use new electric vehicle platforms from the Volkswagen Group, specifically the Premium Platform Electric (PPE) developed by Audi for use by a number of brands including Bentley and Lamborghini.
Bentley won't have its own bespoke platform, but PPE is a highly digital platform for today's software-defined vehicles that are connected and able to receive over-the-air updates. It also provides many features such as air suspension, all-wheel steering, torque vectoring, and offers an 800-volt power system for fast-charging capability.
To keep the lineup fresh in the interim, Bentley will introduce more derivatives of existing models. The Bentayga family grows with the addition of a long-wheelbase version that begins deliveries in the fourth quarter. The Bentley Bentayga Extended Wheelbase or EWB is the spiritual successor to the Mulsanne, available with a four- or five-passenger layout.
The Bentayga EWB adds almost 7.1 inches to the wheelbase and rear cabin space with executive rear seats with footrests that recline to 40 degrees for sleeping. The addition of rear-wheel steering—a first for Bentayga—makes it easier to turn the longer SUV. The Bentayga EWB launches with Bentley's 550-hp, 4.0-liter V-8.
The original Bentayga was unveiled in 2015 and quickly became the brand's best-selling model. Bentley expects the EWB will account for 45 percent of Bentayga sales. Bentley sold almost 15,000 vehicles worldwide in 2021, up 31 percent. A third of the sales were Bentaygas.
All future Bentleys will be designed and developed in Crewe, U.K., and it is essential they remain true Bentleys when they transition to an electric fleet, Georges says. Electric vehicles elicit different emotions; the challenge is to ensure they continue to elicit the same experience customers have come to expect from Bentley. "Electrification fits quite well because it offers effortless performance with a high level of torque." The electrified models will be better than the ones they replace, he says, with benchmark 0-60 mph times while providing an emotional experience during normal driving conditions.
North American feedback to the design process and engineering specifications are essential. Georges travels to Crewe monthly to review the progress and provide feedback on how it will be received by American customers. The main difference: American preference for larger vehicles. The desire for a high degree of craftsmanship, luxury, attention to detail, refinement, comfort, innovation, and an engaging drive experience are the same in all regions.
Georges thinks customers will make the transition to electric vehicles because they trust Bentley to get it right. They will become convinced once they get behind the wheel of a vehicle that is still luxurious and offers more space, innovation, and driving pleasure.
Watching the new vehicles shape up, Georges say the EV does not need a Bentley logo to be recognizable as a Bentley, even if it is more progressive. The proportions, elegance, and the emotions it creates are what make it a Bentley, he says.
Before the introduction of the Bentley Continental GT in 2003, the first Bentley under the Volkswagen Group, people were skeptical that a two-door, four-passenger, luxury car could be successful. The Continental became the toast of Hollywood, sales skyrocketed, and Bentley was back on firm footing.
More than a decade later, many were skeptical when Bentley announced the addition of an SUV, denouncing the idea as heresy. "We demonstrated luxury is not a question of body shape," Georges says. Customers embraced it, the Bentayga quickly became the best-selling vehicle in the lineup, and other luxury car brands have added SUVs as well, including Porsche, Lamborghini, and soon Ferrari with the 2023 Purosangue.
"We know what our customers want," Georges says, noting Bentley has disrupted the luxury sector twice, defined it, and now dominates it. While Bentley is not the first to put luxury electric vehicles on the market, the brand is moving fast and expects to, once again, reshape the sector.
In the U.S., Bentley sold 4,212 vehicles in 2021, of which about 1,500 were SUVs, the two Continental models combined for about 1,900, and Flying Spur added about 900, a well-balanced mix Georges is proud of, showing all lines are successful. When Bentley expands to a five-model lineup, he expects even better results in the U.S., which is the brand's largest market. The CEO says Bentley's dealer body is also the right size and located strategically to cover 84.4 percent of the market.
The North American CEO does not think EVs will change the vehicles U.S. customers want in terms of body shape or drive quality given that Americans still want SUVs and the U.S. is the largest convertible market.
Bentley's specialist Mulliner division provides limitless options to customers who want bespoke vehicles. "We will see more Mulliner from Bentley in the future," Georges says. "It is growing today, with more cars being created by customers and dealers, limited editions are exponentially increasing. We sell more cars that are individually made and co-created. Mulliner is a symbol of bespoke individualization and customers love it."
Limited-volume, coachbuilt cars will also continue to be part of Bentley's product strategy as the brand pivots to EVs.