This year marks the 100th anniversary of Bentley Motors, the iconic British carmaker that first hit the market in 1921 with its Grand Tourer, a high-performance model that featured a 3-liter engine and innovative features like a crossflow cylinder head and twin carburetors. A century later, Bentley is still looking for ways to bring innovation to the luxury car market – only this time its focus is on vehicles that don’t need to be gassed up.
Bentley recently announced plans to sell only plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles by 2026, and then sell only fully electric models by 2030. The company will launch two plug-in hybrid models starting this year. Its first all-electric car should arrive in 2025.
Bentley, now owned by Volkswagen Group, also plans to end the production of all gas-powered cars by 2030, with the aim of being carbon neutral that same year. The company will stop making cars with traditional internal combustion engines within the next half-decade or so to focus solely on hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs).
“Within a decade, Bentley will transform from a 100-year-old luxury car company to a new, sustainable, wholly ethical role model for luxury,” Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark said in a statement.
It’s a big move for an automaker that built its reputation on ultra-luxurious cars with powerful eight- and 12-cylinder engines that require a lot of fuel to operate. Bentley’s announcement is also part of a broader plan to become more sustainable in an industry that continues to transition away from vehicles that are dependent on fossil fuels.
Bentley’s plant in the English town of Crewe is one of only two major manufacturing facilities in the UK to commit to producing EVs in such a short period of time. The other is Jaguar’s factory in Castle Bromwich, which produces the Jaguar Land Rover brand. In 2019, Jaguar Land Rover unveiled plans to build an electric version of the Jaguar XJ Saloon at the site.
The moves by Bentley and Jaguar represent a significant step forward in the evolution of the EV market, which up till now has mainly been dominated by either EV specialists like Tesla, or smaller models trotted out by traditional automakers like Chevrolet and Nissan.
The fact that high-end brands like Bentley – the world’s largest producer of 12-cylinder, gas-powered vehicles – are committing to battery-powered cars sends a message to the rest of the industry that even luxury carmakers recognize the growing demand for vehicles that lower carbon emissions.
Bentley vehicles don’t come cheap, with prices ranging from $160,000 to more than $300,000. Selling expensive cars isn’t a huge problem during periods of economic growth. But Bentley, along with most other carmakers, has seen sales dip over the past year as economies worldwide got hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, Bentley said it would cut 1,000 jobs from its permanent workforce to last summer. The company’s focus on developing electric vehicles also aims to make for a more sustainable business model to help it become more financially resilient and recession-proof.
Hallmark recently said Bentley’s short-term goal is to break even. He expected the company to record sales of 10,000 vehicles in 2020, down from about 11,000 vehicles the previous year.
In addition to trotting out a pair of plug-in hybrid models this year, Bentley plans to fit every model with a hybrid powertrain by 2023. By 2025, the company aims to lower the environmental impact of its factories by 75 percent compared to 2010. These moves are partly a response to British government mandates to restrict sales of gas and diesel-powered cars by 2030.
As part of its commitment to sustainability, Bentley will explore using more environmentally-friendly materials in its vehicles. For example, its EXP 100 GT is trimmed with 5,000-year-old preserved wood and also includes wool carpets and upholstery made from a byproduct of wine-making. The carmaker also announced plans to consume no plastic at its factory by 2030.