The CAR Inquisition: Bentley’s new boss on the path to profitable electrication
In his irst stint at Bentley, Adrian Hallmark brought new life to the brand by making a success of the Continental GT. Now he’s back, this time in the top job, leading the transition into the electric age
IT’S GOOD TO be back,’ says Adrian Hallmark, looking cheerfully at a production line full of shiny new part-assembled Continental GTs in Bentley’s vast Crewe factory. A lot’s changed since he was first here. As sales and marketing director back when Bentley struggled to sell 1000 cars a year, he launched the first Continental GT, which didn’t so much transform the Bentley business as revolutionise it.
That first 2003 Conti was primarily responsible for a 10-fold boost in Bentley sales, to 10,000, and a massive jump in the size of the super-luxury market. Was there ever a car that had such a profound and positive effect on an established maker? Or in a sector? It almost single-handedly boosted the super-luxury market five-fold.
We’re touring the old plant in the back of a Bentley-badged British Racing Green electric golf buggy. Faster, pricier and more stylish electric Bentleys are on their way, says Hallmark – no later than 2025, he hints. By then, there’ll be an electric hybrid version of every Bentley model, too. He says the future is electric, and the profitable electrification of the whole Bentley range is a priority. He also says a full electric Bentley suits the brand perfectly: ‘Electric cars offer high torque and effortless acceleration: that’s the core of the Bentley driving experience.’
The big issues for widespread adoption of EVs are charging speeds and availability, more than range. ‘If you can charge a car in 15 minutes for 200 miles’ range, you’ve virtually got parity with petrol.’ It should happen in five to 10 years, he reckons. Hallmark, 56, returned to Bentley last February, as chairman and CEO, the first Briton to run the VW-owned company in almost 20 years. After leaving in 2005 to work for VW in America and then in Asia, Hallmark gambled by joining Saab just after its post-GM independence (‘the worst business mistake I’ve made’). He then spent over seven years at Jaguar Land Rover and helped to turn around the nation’s biggest car maker.
His peripatetic lifestyle means he set up the family home in the French Alps. He journeys back most weekends, skiing in winter and cycling in summer. (He’s a keen rider and set up Jaguar’s sponsorship of Team Sky.) On weekdays he lives near Bentley’s HQ. How has Bentley changed in his 13-year absence? ‘Everything is very familiar. But the technology has moved on so much. There’s more automation, too, and the company and brand are much stronger.’
He insists there will long be a future for big, extravagant luxury cars, such as Bentleys, not least because the number of ‘high net-worth individuals’ booms – more than a three-fold growth since 2000. He also thinks the internal combustion engine has many years left to run. ‘I can imagine a W12 in 20 years – but using synthetic fuels.’ Hallmark says: ‘We are on the verge of significant growth but we have to make the company more robust. The technical side of Bentley is amazing. We’ve now got to make money from it.’ Though vastly healthier than in the old pre-VW days, Bentley lost money in the first six months of 2018, and sales stalled last year. ‘When we began to sell 10,000 cars a year, the total super-luxury market was 15,000. Now it’s over 70,000. And we’re still selling 10,000 or 11,000 cars. I don’t think we’re going to hit 66 per cent of the segment again. But there’s room for growth – into the mid-teens, certainly.’
He plans to get there by greater electrification, new ‘mobility service’ programmes, a more energetic push into China and more variants of existing models – taking a leaf from Porsche’s book. There will be no new sports cars: the handsome EXP 10 and 12 concepts are stillborn.
‘That sector crashed in the 2008 recession and never recovered. Now, the average age goes up by a year every year. It’s the same old enthusiasts buying cars.’ Young rich people buy SUVs. GAVIN GREEN