Is Bentley Going to Make An Electric Car?

Of course it is. We make the case why.

byPaul A. Eisenstein|
Is Bentley Going to Make An Electric Car?

Luxury brand Bentley is getting ready to launch what could be the most important vehicle in its history, its first sport-utility vehicle, the Bentayga.

Company officials have already confirmed plans to add a plug-in hybrid version of the new ute. But a senior executive now reveals that Bentley is considering additional battery-based powertrain options that could include an all-electric luxury vehicle.

There are several reasons why, says Michael Winkler, CEO of Bentley’s U.S. sales arm. For one thing, “Some places around the world, like London, are considering rules that may not let you drive into the city in a car that isn’t electrified.”

That’s one reason why Bentley is already working on the plug-in hybrid version of the Bentayga. But Winkler sees other reasons why battery power would mesh with a luxury brand. As Tesla has already shown, electrified drivetrains can deliver the same sort of lightning-fast acceleration as the biggest gas engines, the Model S P85d able to launch from 0 to 60 in less than 3 seconds using so-called Ludicrous Mode.

Tesla has also shown that a battery-car can deliver the range a luxury buyer might expect, the latest Model S P90 edition crashing through the 300 mile barrier.

Bentley would have plenty of help plugging into the battery-electric world. Sibling brands Audi and Porsche are making similar moves. The latter is planning to launch an all-electric sports car, the Mission E, while Audi hopes to have a pure battery-electric SUV on the road by 2018. Bentley would all but certainly tap some of the know-how, if not the actual hardware, from those programs for its own battery-electric vehicle.

The plug-in version of the Bentayga is still a ways off, Winkler noting it will debut in the U.S. first, but not until “at least 18 months after the American launch (of the gas-powered Bentayga) in July” of this year.

The German-born executive, who spent most of his career at Porsche, declined to offer any specific details about Bentley’s battery-car plans, but there could be a number of options, including not only a full electric Bentayga, but a version of the maker’s big Mulsanne. Another possibility would be electrifying an all-new entry into the Bentley line-up.

According to Winkler, Bentley wants to have “five models in five years,” a significant expansion from its current line-up. The Bentayga will soon join the Mulsanne and the smaller trio of models based off the Continental platform.

Bentley’s corporate CEO Wolfgang Durheimer has made it clear that he wants to build a version of the EXP10 Speed 6 concept vehicle first revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in 2015. Designed by styling chief Luc Donckerwolke, the show car is smaller than the Continental family—which includes the GT coupe, GTC convertible and Flying Spur sedan.

A production model would target a larger luxury audience, taking on the upper reaches of where Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi now compete. If electrified, it could even give a Tesla Model S buyer an opportunity to move further up-market.

Durheimer has also hinted about adding a second SUV to the Bentley line-up, something smaller than the current Bentayga. If that were to happen, says U.S. chief Winkler, it would share an existing Bentley platform, rather than starting from scratch.

The most likely option would be to base that downsized ute on the modular “architecture” used for the Bentayga. That same platform will be used for the next-generation Porsche Cayenne, as well as the replacement for the current Audi Q7.

Winkler stresses that Bentley has not won approval from parent Volkswagen AG to move ahead on either the EXP 10 or smaller SUV projects. But several sources suggest that if the Bentayga clicks with buyers adding new models would be a relatively easy sell to management.

Bentley sales have been running at or near record levels in recent years, between 10,000 and 12,000 annually. And, says Winkler, “We think in six, seven, eight years we can double that.”