Bentley was founded on July 10, 1919 by W.O. Bentley. That makes 2019 the company's centenary. It's also likely to be the seventh successive year where it sells more than 10,000 vehicles worldwide.
It’s a stellar result for a company that was in receivership back in 1931, only to be saved by Rolls-Royce. What made Bentley famous, besides building some of the world’s finest grand tourers, was its success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It won the prestigious event six times: in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, and more recently in 2003.
At this month’s launch of the Bentayga Speed and new-generation Continental Flying Spur reveal, Bentley CEO and chairman, Adrian Hallmark, reminded us about W.O.'s goal of creating "great cars that could cover continents, that would perform like the finest supercars in the world, that would be durable and inspirational in character".
"That’s what we call definitive grand tourers. And for the last hundred years we’ve been perfecting that art,” Hallmark said.
Despite the company’s recent sales success, Hallmark was quick label 2018 a particularly disappointing year due to supply issues across certain models.
"Bear in mind that for 50% of the year in 50% of the markets we didn’t have cars available. So we’ve not been in the US or China with the new Continental and we stopped production of the Flying Spur," he explained.
“That makes for a very positive upside over the 12 to 24 months when you consider the GT, the GTC, Flying Spur, Bentayga and all the derivatives we’re launching like V8 engines, hybrid powertrains.
"You can fully expect the growth will put us back in an even stronger position looking forward."
Not yet at the halfway point in 2019, Bentley is already performing strongly, with sales and profit likely to be well ahead of the previous year’s results. In the first quarter, the company posted a £49 million ($89.65) profit turnaround due to increased production of the Continental GT and GT Convertible.
Bentley is also readying to meet the stringent EU7 emissions regulations, as well as similar global standards between 2020 and 2022, according to Hallmark.
“The step-change the industry will go through with Bentley in particular in 2023 will be bigger than the WLTP debacle we’ve just been through in Europe. But this time, we’re panicking early so we will be ready for EU7 with no disruptions to production schedules," he said
While Bentley wholeheartedly supports to the advent of battery electric vehicles in the future, it also believes there’ll be a place for smart hybridisation for the next 10 years, especially in larger vehicles like those produced by Bentley.
Bentley’s plan is to hybridise every model in the range in addition to launching its first pure-electric vehicle within the next five years. But that doesn’t mean it'll become a hybrid-only carmaker, Hallmark said.
“That doesn’t mean we’ll be using hybrid powertrains exclusively. Rather, alongside our current range, we’ll also offer a highly credible, highly efficient plug-in hybrid option for those customers and those markets where it makes sense.
“Our plan is to launch the first full electric luxury vehicle from Bentley. We could do something today but it would have to be small due to the limiting factor of the power density of batteries today.
"At 90 to 100kW/h we wouldn’t be able to have a credible range in a full EV version of either Bentayga or even a Flying Spur. But, as that power density increases to 110 and 115 kW/h it opens the segment up to larger vehicles like those we build.”
Bentley is set for a busy year in 2019 having already launched Continental GT and GTC. They’ll then roll out V6 hybrid and V8 powertrains in addition to the W12 in relevant model lines.
Then you’ve got derivatives like the Design Bentayga and Speed Bentayga. Several others are coming, but Hallmark was tight-lipped about what they'll look like.
Hallmark also touched on the need to remain relevant to a future customer base when he wrapped up by saying:
“We also want to prepare the image of the company and the products for the next generation of customers in the next 10 to 15 years. And, we’ll do that partly through electrification and partly the way we take the product to market”.