Bentley’s design, engineering and R&D programs are expanding as never before in the company’s near 100 year history. Not satisfied with introducing the super-premium Bentayga SUV to its model list, the company is now considering a smaller SUV and a sports coupe based on its EXP10 Speed 6 concept to be built alongside its sedan and large coupe models.
Electrification is on the way, and there's even internal talk of a sport wagon, though the company's leaders realize that what they might view as a stylish "shooting brake" would have minimal appeal in the key U.S. and China markets.
Customers in those countries may not know what they are missing. Bentley Director Kevin Rose, told Automotive Engineering: “Personally, I love the idea of a shooting brake; it would give a whole set of new lines to play with. But everything we sell has to be global.”
Vital for Bentley is to use a modular platform (the Bentayga has the Volkswagen Group’s MLB shared with the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne) that can provide the required levels of ride and handling that span large sedans to the likelihood of a 2-seater coupe and associated hybrids.
The company’s global approach is set to double 2015 production—10,000 cars—by 2025. (By comparison, Bentley was building just 1000-2000 units in 2000.) Rose said the Crewe, U.K., factory can provide the additional capacity. He emphasized the need for each Bentley to retain a clear “Britishness,” despite the fact that the company is part of VW Group.
He defines Britishness as: “Understated styling and design, attention to detail craftsmanship and use of materials. Leather and wood, of course, but we have some other ideas, as well as using materials, to advance the theme.”
Stone trim and race wins
Recently revealed by Bentley is the option of stone veneers using slate and quartzite sourced from Indian quarries. The sections of stone are split from larger pieces and cured using glass fiber and a special resin. They are shaped and hand finished by Bentley’s Mulliner coachbuilding division.
The stone surfaces of the veneers are 0.1-mm thick (.0039-in) to provide translucency, allowing the grain and pattern in the stone to be seen.
Mulliner’s role is to respond to the requirements of Bentley’s most discerning customers. This may range from monogrammed upholstery to the kind of elaborate, tailored body modifications that can only be undertaken by a specialist coachbuilder.
Bentley design has to tread a difficult course between accusations of being either trendy or a shade old fashioned. Its involvement in motorsport and its associated technologies helps deal with the latter. “There is nothing like winning races today to make the brand more contemporary. Bentley has always stood for a unique blend of luxury and performance,” said Rose.
At least two Bentley Continental GT3s will enter the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge. The Challenge is a 20-round GT championship comprising 50-minute-long, single-driver races on eleven of America’s most significant race tracks, including Laguna Seca and Road America. The Continental GT3 team’s race wins last year included the GT Asia Series championship.
The race car's specification includes 4.0-L bi-turbo V8 repositioned to the rear producing "up to 600 hp (447 kW) unrestricted" with Motorsport engine management system. Power flows through an Xtrac 6-speed sequential transaxle gearbox, carbon fiber propshaft and limited slip differential to OZ Racing 18 x 13-in wheels. Other go-fast details include carbon fiber front splitter, rear wing and body panels, and lightweight aerodynamically optimized bumpers, hood, sills and fenders. The car's curb weight is below 1300 kg (2866 lb) distributed 52% front; 48% rear.
Batery-electric powertrains look certain to power future Bentleys (http://articles.sae.org/14505/), giving a 500-km (310-mi) range and fast charging via an 800V source. And plug-in hybrid technology will be available on the Bentayga SUV and offered progressively on other models.
However, Rose noted evidence of users of plug-in hybrids now tend not to charge at home or office but just rely on the IC engine to keep batteries charged. But he is a convinced of an electric future: “How long will it be before some city authorities allow non-electric vehicles to enter an urban area only every other day, or introduce some new kind of taxation? Eventually, there will be customer demand for an electric car to do pretty much what a gasoline car can do today.”
With instant torque and quiet running electric powertrains are totally apposite for cars in Bentley’s class. Of course, that segment is relatively small – around 60,000 annual units globally. It is delineated as being above about 200,000 euros per unit, to around twice that figure. The ultimate premium sector is made up of about 7000 units per annum. Rose said that some 90% of Bentley customers are classed as entrepreneurs.
Does size matter?
An interesting as aspect of acceptable pricing for luxury performance cars (leaving aside the likes of Ferrari, and VW Group's Bugatti, concerns size. Aston Martin tested this to an extreme with its tiny and mostly forgettable Toyota IQ-based Cygnet. But Rose is confident that if Bentley produces a smaller SUV it will meet customer expectations. This type would fit neatly into an emerging SUV market, that mixes both sportier and traditional premium solutions in the way Land Rover’s hugely successful Evoque has demonstrated.
But a smaller SUV "must look, feel and drive like a Bentley,” said Rose. So it would be relatively small (in Bentley terms) but still with a high premium rating. Whether it would offer the 320-km/h (200-mph) top speed potential that has become de rigueur for most current Bentleys may present an interesting challenge. As well as high speed, it would achieve relatively high build numbers, contributing to Bentley’s 2025 estimate.
The Bentayga’s anticipated initial production run was 3600 units/year but that has been upped by the company to 5600 for the 2016 plan.
Although chassis and powertrain sharing form part of the VW Group’s economy of scale philosophy, each brand has to pay its way on an individual basis in terms of design, engineering and manufacturing. There is no subsidy as such between brands. Added Rose: “The Volkswagen Group is extremely good at running a lot of brands. In fact it is probably the only one that has been able to bring 12 or so together and run them successfully.”
But autonomous driving technology is one area where Bentley would use Group R&D expertise, although Rose made clear that it is not high on the current model development agenda: “So far customers have not said they want it.”
But as those customers typically own between six and eight cars, for some a self-driving Bentley may become a “must have” ….in place of the chauffeur, perhaps.