Why does Bentley break new sales records with the monotony and regularity with which we brush our teeth, while no less blue-blooded British sports car brands like Aston Martin and McLaren continue to struggle? It is easy and obvious to conclude that being owned by the world’s largest car company, rather than private investors, has everything to do with it.
Being owned by VW gives Bentley advantages no amount of venture capital can replicate. It gives access to the very latest technologies, entire sub-assemblies developed for Group-wide applications, purchasing clout of unimaginable proportions and, when a global pandemic comes along and you have to shut the factory, the largest safety net in the business.
But it still has to produce not only good cars, but those that are consistent with the company’s brand values. And it does. It has steadfastly refused to be dragged in the direction of the small, lighter, more affordable and sporting cars the petrolheads would like to see. Others have that ground covered already. So instead a Bentley is fast and capable, but never the last word in performance or handling. They are good to drive but rarely great, but blend that with a level of luxury and comfort that makes them unique in the world. An Aston is faster, a Rolls more opulent but if you want both, it is to Bentley alone that you must turn.
It’s been fortunate too. Cars in general and luxury cars in particular are larger and heavier today than ever before, but Bentley was producing large, heavy, plutocratic palaces long before Ettore Bugatti called them ‘the fastest lorries in the world’. That world has come to Bentley and it is making the very most of it. For instance a vast SUV is, in fact, fully consistent with Bentley brand values, so there’s been no conceptual leap for its clientele to make. Going forward, the electric luxury cars of the future will be heavy, fast, laden with torque and essentially silent, which has been pretty much Bentley’s mission statement for over a century. Spectacularly successful though it is today, it’s entirely possible the best is yet to come.