CAR MAK­ERS TAR­GET THE RICH’S DE­SIRE TO SHOW OFF THEIR ETH­I­CAL CRE­DEN­TIALS

Lux­ury mar­ques such as Bent­ley are re­spond­ing to the grow­ing de­mand for ve­hi­cles with re­duced car­bon foot­prints

The National - News - - BUSINESS IN DEPTH -

Many Bent­ley cus­tomers be­lieve they have ob­tained their wealth be­cause of luck.

So says Bent­ley Mo­tors’ new chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive, Adrian Hall­mark.

“I have recog­nised that a lot of our cus­tomers fol­low a sim­i­lar thing: they are super-suc­cess­ful. And a lot of them think it’s be­cause they’re lucky,” he says. “That’s re­ally im­por­tant, be­cause they don’t think they’re above hu­man weak­ness and frailty.”

Such per­ceived (and be­lieved) good for­tune is spurring the world’s mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires to make lux­ury pur­chases based on a sys­tem of val­ues such as re­duced car­bon foot­prints and sus­tain­abil­ity, he says.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Hall­mark, hy­brid and elec­tric cars al­low them to ex­press these val­ues in a novel way.

“There is a new di­men­sion longterm in the pur­chase de­ci­sion – the eth­i­cal value,” he says, re­fer­ring to glean­ings from a 2008 in­ter­nal study Bent­ley did of the world’s wealth­i­est peo­ple. “Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion is part of it, and elec­tri­fi­ca­tion isn’t go­ing away.”

In fact, this ad­di­tion to the tra­di­tional con­sid­er­a­tions for buy­ing a lux­ury car – per­for­mance, qual­ity ma­te­ri­als and crafts­man­ship – is man­i­fest­ing so strongly among the world’s top 1 per cent that it is in­flu­enc­ing Bent­ley’s prod­uct plan­ning for the next two decades.

The com­pany in­tro­duced its Ben­tayga Hy­brid, a mid-six-fig­ure 4x4 that can run 50km on purely elec­tric power, at the Geneva Auto Show last month (the heavy­weight 4x4 isn’t ex­actly an “econobox”, but the hy­brid badge cer­tainly adds a feel­ing of green-tinged do-good­ery – both for driv­ers and for on­look­ers who know what it means).

By 2025, all Bent­ley cars will of­fer some ver­sion of an elec­tric driv­e­train, Mr Hall­mark says. That in­cludes its 12-cylin­der Con­ti­nen­tal GT line, the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of which is due out be­fore sum­mer.

It may take up to a decade to make an elec­tric ver­sion of such a car, but the way Mr Hall­mark sees it, Bent­ley has no choice.

“We al­ready know that the [next ver­sion] will be a bat­tery elec­tric ve­hi­cle,” he says.

“It will have all of those moral and eth­i­cal ben­e­fits with it. By not go­ing that way, even if we don’t have to, we would be mas­sively un­der-per­form­ing in terms of cus­tomer po­ten­tial.”

Of course, the Crewe, Eng­land-based brand isn’t the only one to reckon that, in ad­di­tion to be­ing more ef­fi­cient, elec­tric power be­stows a mark of honour upon its best clients. Top lux­ury car mak­ers have been pro­duc­ing hy­brid and elec­tric ve­hi­cles for years, such as BMW’s i8, Porsche’s 918 Spy­der Hy­brid and Mercedes-Benz’s sold-out Project 1.

We take it for granted that a fair num­ber of wealthy car buy­ers ad­mire elec­tric power, thanks to the (usu­ally) cool ca­chet of Tesla. But not long ago, electrics were viewed as anath­ema by se­ri­ous car peo­ple, who favoured tra­di­tional air-cooled en­gines with their gut­tural roars and grit.

Then Toy­ota’s Prius in­tro­duced the mod­ern elec­tric car to a broad au­di­ence. That one, with its awk­ward an­gles and gut­less driv­e­train, made elec­tric cars feel like medicine we took with eyes closed and a quick swal­low. The few electrics that did get car fa­nat­ics ex­cited were rather frag­ile, mil­lion-dol­lar hy­per­car one-offs that spent more time in the garage than on the road. These days, well-heeled buy­ers con­sider a hy­brid or plug-in ve­hi­cle a cru­cial part of a well-rounded garage.

“It is def­i­nitely high-per­for­mance with sus­tain­abil­ity that res­onates on a val­ues and ethics level … with af­flu­ent and wealthy au­to­mo­tive buy­ers,” says Mil­ton Pe­draza, founder of the Lux­ury In­sti­tute in Man­hat­tan, which stud­ies trends of the world’s rich.

Wit­ness Porsche’s up­com­ing Mis­sion E, an elec­tric-pow­ered sedan that the car maker has hyped for years and plans to un­veil on the eve of its also much-hyped 70th an­niver­sary.

It will prob­a­bly cost more than the $90,000-plus Panam­era, and while its driv­ing range and bat­tery power re­mains ob­scured, it will un­doubt­edly be a car to im­press with next year.

Among Porsche’s no­to­ri­ously ra­bid fans, it will be the only new model that could di­vert at­ten­tion from the usual adu­la­tion at­tend­ing icons such as the brand’s GT3, 911R or 930.

More cru­cial on a broader scale, if Porsche de­liv­ers on its prom­ise, it will be the first saloon to chal­lenge Tesla’s Model S in terms of sales vol­ume.

Or take As­ton Martin, which has an­nounced it’s turn­ing an en­tire her­itage brand, Lagonda, into an elec­tric pow­er­house. The wedge-shaped Lagonda Vision Con­cept that de­buted in Geneva is an all-elec­tric sedan that marks how As­ton ex­pects the long-ex­tinct brand to look when it re­turns.

As­ton Martin hasn’t di­vulged many details about the new car, which, af­ter all, is only a con­cep­tual ex­er­cise, but Andy Palmer, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of As­ton Martin Lagonda, says it will get about 600km on one charge – enough to drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and back again twice.

It will also have self-driv­ing ca­pa­bil­ity and zero emis­sions.

“The Lagonda Vision Con­cept is our plan for the re­birth of a great brand,” he says. “It’s a new kind of lux­ury car.”

Some of the most pres­ti­gious brands are hold­ing off on elec­tric – for now. McLaren’s global head of sales, Jolyon Nash, re­cently said ‘no way, not ever’ (prob­a­bly).

Lam­borgh­ini’s chief en­gi­neer, Mau­r­izio Reg­giani, says it would take quite a lot of per­sua­sion for the brand to make any­thing elec­tric in the near fu­ture. Bu­gatti’s Stephan Winkel­mann, who in­ci­den­tally came from Lam­borgh­ini by way of Audi Sport, says “it’s too early to talk about” elec­tri­fi­ca­tion at Bu­gatti, al­though he recog­nises the po­ten­tial.

“We are not in­flu­enc­ing this dis­cus­sion, but we take this very se­ri­ously,” he says. “It’s some­thing to look into.”

Stephanie Brin­ley, se­nior an­a­lyst for IHS Markit, takes it all with a grain of salt. Some of the “eth­i­cal value” sta­tus sym­bol talk is hope­ful think­ing and mar­ket­ing, she says.

Af­ter all, car com­pa­nies have in­vested bil­lions in elec­tri­fi­ca­tion; they have a lot rid­ing on their abil­ity to sell the story that a mas­sive, ex­pen­sive hy­brid 4x4 is cool, not just “eco-friendly” (be­cause, let’s be hon­est, if you wanted to re­ally re­duce your car­bon foot­print, the an­swer would be to buy a cheap, tiny elec­tric car or ride a mo­tor­cy­cle – or a bike).

Still, the car mak­ers are onto some­thing real, she says, that’s not go­ing away. Young driv­ers are go­ing to care about sus­tain­able and eth­i­cal trans­porta­tion in the next decade – more than any buy­ing group ever has, es­pe­cially when it comes to as­pi­ra­tional brands. “If you look at millennials or the younger gen­er­a­tion, there does seem to be more thought­ful­ness about what kind of mark you leave on the planet, more so than a decade ago,” Ms Brin­ley says. “As we move for­ward in the lux­ury land­scape, for this type of buyer, hav­ing one in your garage will be cru­cial.”

For car mak­ers, at least, it’ll take more than luck to get them there.

Reuters / PA

The Ben­tayga is Bent­ley’s hy­brid re­sponse to chang­ing mar­ket dy­nam­ics which, chair­man Adrian Hall­mark says, the com­pany is com­pelled to fol­low

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