Bentley Mulliner boss excited by the “opportunities" and "freedoms” of EVs

08th December 2023
Ethan Jupp

Effervescent internal combustion engines and their enchantingly varied vocals are, sooner or later, making way for whisper-quiet electric motors in all cars, from white goods commuters to boutique hypercars. As such it would be prudent for certain carmakers – those that to varying degrees trade on the emotions these outgoing oil burners elicit – to find new ways to pull on buyer’s heartstrings. It’s a difficult question to ask for the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin, but what about Bentley?


We’re not sure things look so bleak. Quite the opposite, in fact. We think there could be very exciting times ahead for a company that is re-embracing automotive artforms of its distant past, that could be taken to a new level in the skateboard platform era – that of customisation and coach-building.

This is the mission of Mulliner. Once one of many independent names famous for draping Bentley chassis and engines in flowing coachwork, Mulliner is now Bentley’s in-house department responsible for the highest-level of customisation and bespoke commissions.

See, car manufacturing in the 2020s, 2030s and beyond could in many cases share a number of striking similarities to car manufacturing in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s – the golden era of body-on-frame, of true coach building. Where once two box rails joined a pair of axles, flanking a petrol engine, over which a body would be draped, a skateboard platform around a flat battery joins front and rear with electric motors feeding the wheels.

Of course the difference is that in an EV, there’s no hot oily lump of metal up front that needs to be cooled. There’s no prop shaft flowing down the middle of the car dictating a transmission tunnel and there’s no fuel tank to be housed anywhere else. Obviously modern car design has to keep safety – of occupants and pedestrians – and of course aerodynamics in mind. Yet still, the opportunity to innovate, to create art, is obvious to see.

Ansar Ali, the head of Mulliner at Bentley, agreed, when we explained our theory to him during a Mulliner driving day, having just sampled Bentley’s last W12-engined coach build, the Bacalar.


Electric coach-built Bentleys – an exciting challenge

“We are completely aligned with what you’re saying,” he says, with a smile on his face. 

“We’re seeing huge interest in coach-built. We’re both old and new in that field – we’re coming back at the moment.

“The entire industry is going through this transition of ICE to Hybrid to BEV. We’re all approaching it with a degree of trepidation a little bit, to various degrees, depending on where each business is in terms of maturity and approaching that challenge. We are quite ahead of the game actually, with the way Adrian [Hallmark] set out the Beyond100 agenda. It’s a train we can’t stop, so let’s just get on it now and go for it.

“But as we go into electrification, with effectively skateboards, there are opportunities. There are more freedoms. You’re absolutely right in that interpretation. It is stuff that we are looking at now as part of the platform strategy that Bentley is working on. It’s something that we will go into.”

Indeed, the main Bentley ship is to steer and charge at full tilt towards electrification, with hybridisation as a stepping stone. To an extent, all Bentley coach builds need to be married to existing models, so we will more than likely see V8s and hybridised V6s, before the full EV coach builds break cover. Therein is one of the other advantages of Bentley as a brand, however, by comparison to other high-end marques.


The brand "doesn’t pivot around a powertrain"

Where Lamborghini, Ferrari and to an extent Aston Martin are all-but wedded to their V12s in terms of the experience their cars deliver, Bentley isn’t.The powerful engines of its 100-year history could uncharitably be described as mere motive devices. Their job was to be reliable and to make the car fast but to be refined at the same time. 

The W12, shortly to depart, was by design never the same kind of blood pumper that Ferrari’s V12s have always been, or even Porsche’s flat-sixes. What it does can, in the eyes of many of Bentley’s customers, be replicated with relative ease by motors and batteries. This advantage of brand synergy in terms of the future all carmakers face isn’t lost on Ali.

“We’re all about luxury and performance,” he says. “On the performance side we’ve got fantastic heritage with powertrains, but the brand doesn’t pivot around a powertrain.

“Ferrari to an extent, and Lamborghini, are married to the V12s that are such an important part of their heritage. We don’t have that same umbilical chord. Yes, we’re about performance but no one’s saying ‘Bentley is this V10’. It’s a bit easier, or less hard I should say.”


Bentley’s audience is a diversifying one, too. While it has that faithful cohort of old-guard buyers – the loves of Turbos, Arnages and Mulsannes – there’s a broader market it’s starting to appeal to, with the Bentayga and with its Mulliner customisation programmes.

"In terms of coach-built, we definitely have those that say they want the last ICE – ‘keep it going as long as you can’. Hybrid is interesting. We don’t always get people asking for a coach-built hybrid but we know we’re going to have to do it.

“For now. we’ve still got a few programs in development that we’ll see through, in the arena of Bacalar and Batur that will see light over the next 24 months or so.

“As a modern luxury brand we’re in this transition in terms of customer demographic. We’re seeing a much younger community starting to look at us. We’ve got a way to go but we’re on that trajectory now. We’ve got to manage loyal customers as well as engage those new audiences.”


Exclusive: “There was a temptation” to make a Taycan-based bespoke Bentley

Could Bentley have already produced an all-electric coach-build? No, we’re not talking about a Volkswagen ID.3 with a flying B adorning its snout. Rather the J1 platform that underpins the Porsche Taycan and Audi E-Tron GT. Both are low-slung, wide, powerful, capable four-seat, four-door GTs. Sounds very Bentley, no? 

We can exclusively reveal, a J1-based Bentley coach-build was considered but as Adrian Hallmark, Bentley’s CEO, has been quite frank about before, the numbers weren’t quite there. Not of performance, but of range. A Bentley is after all, a grand tourer first and foremost.

“We looked at it in the first concept phase,” Ali tells us. Key attributes, design philosophy, silhouette, very basic packaging. The team were looking at the technology with some group partners and it’s by no means sunk. It’s a program in concept terms that we’d love to bring to fruition on a more mature platform.”

So yes, somewhere deep in Bentley’s Crewe headquarters is a vision for a J1-based bespoke Bentley that will no doubt inform what’s to come. As above, we could be in for a future of truly beautiful Bentleys that, in lieu of a rumbling internal combustion engine, draw you in with the kind of design that simply wouldn’t have been possible with an internal combustion car.

We can’t wait to see what they come up with and yes, if we were Ferrari or Lamborghini, we’d be jealous of Bentley and how well our collective inevitable future fits its brand identity and remit.

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