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Luxury automaker Bentley to go all electric

The 101-year-old automaker is best known for high-performance and fuel-thirsty vehicles such as the Bentayga SUV and Flying Spur sedan.
Image: Bentley EXP 100 GT
The Bentley EXP 100 GT concept vehicle.Stan Papior / Bentley Motors

Britain’s Bentley has become the latest automaker to lay out plans for an all-electric future, and one of the first in the luxury space.

The century-old automaker is best known for high-performance — and fuel-thirsty — vehicles like the Bentayga SUV and Flying Spur sedan. By 2026, however, all of its products will be plug-based, whether in hybrid or battery-electric form, CEO Adrian Hallmark revealed last week. Four years later, all Bentleys will be entirely electric.

“By 2030, no more combustion engines,” Hallmark said. "The future of Bentley will be fully electric," he said. "We are not only working on one electric car but a full family of electric cars."

Bentley’s announcement comes amid an accelerating shift by the global auto industry away from gas and diesel to battery power. It also reflects a transformation within the electrified vehicles segment. Early offerings, such as the Toyota Prius hybrid, Chevrolet Volt plug-in and Nissan Leaf battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, targeted buyers looking for environmentally friendly vehicles and who were willing to trade off performance and creature comforts.

Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin — some of the world’s largest markets for premium brands like Bentley — will soon bar vehicles that are not electric.

The latest generation of electrified vehicles has begun to eliminate many of those compromises. Among other things, the new crop takes advantage of the wheel-spinning torque that electric motors can deliver, and their near-silent operation. That has generated growing interest within the luxury market, especially as range continues to improve.

Luxury manufacturers like Bentley also have the advantage of appealing to more affluent buyers less concerned about the premium they might pay for an extended-range battery pack, noted Joe Phillippi, head of AutoTrends Consulting.

That has led a growing number of high-line automakers to start laying out plans to add hybrids, plug-ins and BEVs. Earlier this week, the CEO of Aston Martin announced plans to have at least 20 percent of its sales come from electrified products by 2024, with its first all-electric model to follow about two years later. Bentley’s lead competitor in the super-premium segment, Rolls-Royce, has also said it will begin shifting to electric propulsion.

In the more mainstream luxury market, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have announced plans to accelerate their own transition, and Cadillac says it will be 100 percent electric by 2030.

Bentley’s long history in racing has been a foundation of its appeal. But Bentley officials said that research found 55 percent of current customers saying they would be interested in buying an electrified model.

“We really see that we’re in a good position to engage with this customer,” said Chris Craft, Bentley’s sales and marketing chief.

That figure, the automaker hopes, will grow, and for a variety of reasons. The carrot side of the equation is the fact that electric motors can deliver substantially more power than even the biggest Bentley engine today. It’s becoming increasingly common for new BEVs — such as the Lucid Air — to reach figures ranging from 700 to more than 1,000 horsepower. Yet they run almost silently.

The stick comes in the form of government emissions and fuel efficiency mandates being enacted around the world. The government in China, now the world’s largest luxury market, has laid out a target for 20 percent of the vehicles sold there to have plug-based powertrains by 2025. China is considering an outright ban on the internal combustion engine, as a number of markets such as the U.K. and Norway have already called for. Many cities, such as Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin, will soon bar vehicles not running in electric mode. These include some of the world’s largest markets for premium brands like Bentley.

Bentley is in a particularly good position to go all electric. It is one of a dozen brands owned by Volkswagen, which has laid out one of the industry’s most aggressive battery-car programs. VW officials plan to have at least 50 BEVs on sale by mid-decade, including luxury brands such as Porsche and Audi.