The CAR In­qui­si­tion: Bent­ley’s new boss on the path to pro“fitable elec­tri“cation

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

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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

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