That story therefore has to contain elements of sustainability, personalisation, local sourcing, rarity, innovation and authenticity. It’s a tough ask, but for brands who have maintained high levels of craftsmanship down the decades, there’s an element of fun these days to creating the wow factor (or “surprise and delight moments”, as various industries wincingly call it) inside your next set of wheels.
Take Bentley, for example. This venerable British brand is at the very pinnacle of interior design in the car world right now. One could argue it can afford to be when its cars command such high prices, but, like the engineering side of the industry, the design process is pyramid-shaped: what begins at the high end with research and experimentation, filters down slowly but surely to the mass market.
Bentley intelligently combines its legacy of craftsmanship (Mulliner, its coachbuilder, is the oldest such company in the world – it started as a saddler in 1559) with eye-popping innovation to source and use new materials. In early March, at the preview of a new model that remains under embargo until late spring, Stefan Sielaff, Bentley’s design boss, spoke to us about his “storytelling and experimenting”. The company is using the ash of rice husks in its exterior paint, and a bi-product of wine harvests that acts as an alternative textile to leather: both materials would otherwise be discarded but find a new lease of life with Bentley. It’s the next step in recycling: rather than re-using something that has already had a life, Bentley is looking at materials that have always been entirely discarded as part of a manufacturing process, and sent to landfill, as is BMW (see i3 leather tanning below).