The 12-cylinder engine is a rare beast. How do you replace the Bentley-ness of a multi cylinder engine in the BEV era?
When we look at the BEVs, it’s pick your horsepower. If we are 659 hp now with GT Speed, we will be double that with a BEV.
Aren't you edging into that nausea-inducing level of acceleration at that point?
You can tune the acceleration to whatever you want. You don't have to have 0-60 mph in 1.5 seconds, you can adjust that to 2.7 seconds, for example, with the ability to switch it to 1.5 seconds. Most people enjoy the 30 to 70 mph (50 to 113 kph) acceleration, or in Germany the 30 to 150 mph (50 to 240 kph) acceleration, not the 0 to 60. Effortless overtaking performance from a huge amount of torque on demand. And we will be able to create even more with some of the technologies that we will lead, which are currently being discussed. We are looking for the W-12 of batteries, too. We are not just going to plug in a load of triple AAA batteries and see how it goes. We are willing and able to innovate in battery technology within the VW Group and be the lead for some of the new technology partners for the group or outside of it.
Porsche had said that the cell is the new combustion chamber. Do you agree with that?
Totally. We only have 12 combustion chambers in the biggest engine instead of 1,500 or 2,000 in the battery as well as the ability to optimize different parts of the battery at different times to give you range and performance. This is nascent technology. We are at the beginning of it and it's going to be more tuneable from the whole brand point of view. Not all cells will be equal when it comes to how they are applied into vehicles. There will still be brand differentiation.
It’s been just over a year since was Bentley transferred from Porsche’s control to Audi. How is life under Audi?
It's fantastic. We had a great relationship with Porsche, but we also had a great relationship with Audi because we relied upon them for support on the Bentayga, which uses their architecture. It's not as if we just met them. But I think the biggest benefit was this whole architecture lead thing. Audi is leading the premium and luxury battery electric vehicle architecture, not just the battery cell, but the whole vehicle and all systems. Most of the products that we will do in the future come from that architecture. So, instead of having three based on the Porsche architecture and one on Audi it's going revert it the other way within the next five to seven years. It makes sense for us to be closer to Audi from a technology point of view.
What has been the reality versus your expectations of the relationship with Audi?
My biggest fear was not the technology, but that we would have to resell the strategy that we just agreed over two years and got signed off. I thought this would result in six- to nine-month slowdown, but I couldn't have been more wrong. They have embraced what we have achieved in the turnaround. They have embraced what Bentley could be fully again. No question. We are full steam ahead.
The EV coming in 2025 will use Audi’s PPE architecture platform. Will your EV and the Audi Landjet arrive at roughly the same time?
The Audi flagship and the Bentley flagship are going to come roughly around the same time, probably within a year to 18 months of each other
With Audi first?
Well, watch this space.
Is it still called PPE?
It’s PPE but sometimes we change it to SSP, but I wouldn't worry about the name. It will probably change again. Artemis was the project to put all these cars together and then create the platform. There is a team within Audi that is running this. So, the core technology is developed by core Audi engineers.
How involved has Bentley been in the creation of the architecture?
The platform gives us the battery technology itself, the drive units, the autonomous capability, the connected car capability, the body systems and some innovations in those. All that is being worked in parallel. All of our attributes are baked in at the beginning. We are right in the middle of that process, which is demanding because we have to do pre-development work that we never did with previous programs. PPE allows different heights and sizes so you can have everything from SUVs to low-slung cars to midsize and full-size ones.
When you start building the PPE-based first cars, what comes from Germany and what do you build on site in the UK?
Like today, probably we will buy non-painted bodies from Germany, then prep them and paint them and build the cars. Today, we buy axles and gearboxes from European suppliers. That will be the same. But instead of building our own engines as we do today, we will assemble battery packs on site. So, the added value in Crewe would increase because you build every car battery pack. At the moment, we only build the 12-cylinder engines from scratch.
The UK is planning a couple of gigafactories. Would Bentley, as a member of the VW Group, be able to go to one of those and source batteries? Or will you be part of a wider Audi-led purchasing scheme?
The first step for us is to secure the future technologies that we need to develop the Bentley BEVs for the next eight years to fully transition to electric. The blessing is that we are able to shape that future technology more than we ever have in the last 20 years in the group. So, we have got a secure battery supply for the middle of this decade. If during the course of the next three to five years we find better technologies, be it solid-state batteries or better performing cells from other suppliers, we will absolutely consider them. Our commitment is to find as many synergies as we can within the group to make sure that we have security of supply. We are constantly looking at innovation, and we are seen as an opportunity to innovate safely with some of the higher cost early technology opportunities out there because our products can withstand that extreme unit cost more so than the regular volume car.
Will the first batteries for the 2025 car come from Northvolt?
No. There are two different battery technologies in the group. The unified cell for the volume cars, and a high-performance cell being led by Audi.
Which of VW Group’s battery partners is helping develop that?
There is no one partner with the monopoly. We have the cell design, the mix and the way it's going to be manufactured and we have options as to who we go with for that cell. That still needs to be determined.
How will your trim shop adapt to an electric car?
Maybe it will expand. As will wood and other materials and 3D printing and laser etching. We are also going to radically change substrates as well. We use metal now. It used to be solid wood, but it was too heavy. So, we have gone to lightweight castings, but we are looking at new technologies that will also be able to carry lighting or other technologies in them that will be interacting with the veneers and the finishes themselves. These are actually the bits that are the most delightful for our customers. So, it's not trivial, but it's not the heavy engineered axle and drive units.
How do to get the balance right between Bentley tactility and the trend for big screens and all the software within it?
We hate additive screens with a passion. The most breathtaking materials I have ever seen in Bentleys are the most harmonious, understated but exquisite in their detail. The challenge to the team has been: How do we do that in the digital world together with the materials and the craftsmanship? How do we create the most inspirational digital experience that, when it's off, still looks as inspirational as the 1950s Flying Spur with fully matched mirror veneers around the car? We have some really cool solutions. The rotating dash [in the current Flying Spur] was just practice.