“This is the lowest risk decision I’ve ever made in my career.”
The reputation of one of the world’s most fabled luxury brands is on the line, along with billions of dollars in research and development spending. But chairman and CEO Adrian Hallmark sees little downside in committing Bentley to building nothing but electric vehicles by 2030.
The radical reinvention of Bentley, which Hallmark has been working on since 2018, has now been fully approved and signed off by the Volkswagen Group board.
Engineers in Crewe and in Germany are working flat out on a new generation of electric-powered cars and SUVs that will entirely replace Bentley’s current line-up within eight years.
Hallmark says the first all-electric Bentley will go on sale in late 2025 or early 2026. The exterior shape has been designed, and its attributes defined. “My only anxiety is whether all the technology can be delivered in time,” he says. “But if it’s late, it will only be by months, not years.”
Hallmark’s optimism is fuelled by two things. First, he says, most of Bentley’s existing customers live in places where internal combustion engine vehicles are on borrowed time.
China, which accounts for 20 percent of Bentley sales, has for example mandated that 40 percent of all cars sold there by 2030 must be EVs.
Britain has announced the sale of new petrol and diesel-powered vehicles will be phased out by 2030 and that all new vehicles will be zero-emission by 2035.
In the USA, 12 state governors have backed a ban on internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035. And many European cities already have plans in place to restrict their roads to only EVs.
Bentley can’t afford not to build EVs.
Second, Hallmark believes the recent re-organisation at Volkswagen Group that has seen the oversight of Bentley switch from Porsche to Audi will deliver EV technology that is better suited to the British luxury brand.
Above: The Bentley Mulliner Batur, although a limited-edition model with a huge W12 petrol heart, is understood to be our first look at the styling of future Bentley EVs.
Volkswagen Group has decided three distinct platform and battery architectures will underpin all its future EVs. Mainstream EVs up to C-segment in size will be built on an evolution the MEB architecture developed by Volkswagen.
Sporty and high-performance EVs will use an architecture developed by Porsche. And luxury EVs will use an architecture developed by Audi.
“It’s better for us to be under Audi,” Hallmark says, explaining that 80 percent of future Bentleys will be based on one premium luxury electric architecture.
And though Hallmark doesn’t spell it out, there’s another dynamic at play that makes Audi governance a better fit.
Under pressure from the Porsche and Piëch families, who watched how profitably Ferrari was detached from FCA, Porsche is about to be spun off from Volkswagen Group, with a partial IPO that’s set to value it at about $100 billion. Working with Bentley could be seen as a distraction by a more independent, performance-focused Porsche.
With Audi, Bentley will be given much more attention, not the least because of the potential trickle-down benefits for Audi’s larger, more expensive models in terms of the feature set and levels of refinement required for a luxury EV. “We can have a much greater say as to what we need in that architecture,” Hallmark admits.
Adrian Hallmark clearly relishes the challenge of leading Bentley through the most profound period of change facing the automotive industry in more than 100 years.
“It’s brilliant!” he says. “I’m not sentimental. I wish it had happened earlier. I’ve only got four or five years left in this industry. I wish I had fifteen.”
Keyword: MACKENZIE: Electrifying Bentley, the 'lowest-risk decision' ever made