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Bentley Motors has always epitomized luxury. That’s an undeniable fact that’s been well-established by the company’s reputation over the last century.
“People still love the comfort and the elegance and the refinement. They don’t want a sports car or a pure sports sedan,” Bentley Motors Global CEO and Chairman Adrian Hallmark tells Entrepreneur about customers and admirers of the luxury motor vehicle company in an early morning conversation. “But they do like the idea of 207 miles per hour, 626 horsepower, four-wheel drive, and the craftsmanship that nobody else can beat. When you put all that together, and you drive it every day, these people feel like they’re on another planet.”
Hallmark has a rare level of approachability about him; he is warm yet cool and precise, extremely knowledgeable in an almost intimidating way, yet confident in that there is no need to rattle off every single thing that makes owning or driving a Bentley so great — the cars, the numbers and the clientele do that all on their own.
Perhaps that’s why the company, which celebrated its 100th year in 2019, is on track for its biggest fiscal year in its history.
At the end of July, Bentley reported that its half year-to-date sales numbers had hit record profitability greater than any full year since the company’s inception 102 years ago, with an operating profit of 178 million Euro (around $209.35 million) and a 50% increase in retail sales from its 2019 (pre-Covid) report at 7,199 cars.
Impressive, yes. But if you ask Hallmark, he’ll tell you that he’s “a little disappointed in that performance.”
“We could have done this last year and before everybody else did. What we’re seeing this year, is there is an increase in demand in the luxury sector,” he explains. “So now, everybody is benefiting from that increase in demand. If it had been last year, if Covid hadn’t happened (although too late now, it did), we were ready. We had the biggest order bank in 20 years, all the products were now on the market, we were ready to go. And then we had to shut for the equivalent of 12 weeks. So when we got into the beginning of this year, we had a bigger order bank than the previous year, which is fantastic. Then, each month, we delivered a high growth rate in sales. And each month, the incoming fresh orders were higher in numbers, the number of cars we delivered. So we’ve grown the order bank every month this year.”
Hallmark remains optimistic about the rest of the year, admitting that Bentley is in a “very strong position” which he attributes to three major factors — a positive market environment, a dynamic Bentley fleet product range with attractive derivatives within that range (think Flying Spur hybrids and Bentayga Speed models) and a leaner, more effective workforce that comes after a 30% cut in the company’s workforce as a result of the pandemic.
Covid-19 and its implications are still very far from over, something we’re reminded of as we sit down with Hallmark from a distance, due to clearance complications and distancing requirements brought on by the second wave of the pandemic.
But it’s this drive (pun intended, perhaps) and hunger for growth amid a time when so many other industries and companies have admitted defeat and halted their brakes (ok, enough with the car puns) that put Hallmark and Bentley in such a favorable position.
It’s apparent to anyone who speaks with Hallmark that his love not only for Bentley but for automobiles and the industry at large feels innate; that he doesn’t just love being in business, but that he loves being in this business.
“I’ve had some very formative experiences as a young guy that got me first into engineering, and then into cars. But to be honest, if I could have gone into motorbikes, I would have preferred that when I was younger. But then I realized they hurt you when you came off. So I grew into cars,” he admits, laughing. “I’ve always been a fan of technical things, be it bicycles, motorbikes or cars as a kid. And I’ve been privileged to be able to enter this industry and grow over that 30 years and have some amazing experiences. And in the end, that’s what work is about, isn’t it? The people you’re with, and the things you would never be able to do if you weren’t in that work environment.”
As an industry vet, Hallmark knows the ins and outs of the business, holding longstanding executive positions with major players in the automobile industry like Porsche and Jaguar Land Rover. In fact, when Hallmark was appointed Global CEO of Bentley in 2018, it wasn’t his first go around at the company — he had previously worked at the company from 1999 to 2005 and stayed within the Volkswagen group until late 2009.
“We created and delivered the strategy for the Continental GT, and that really took us from less than 1,000 global sales a year to 10,000. Creating that first GT … and the Flying Spur was a fantastic experience,” Hallmark recalls of his earlier days with Bentley. “But if I look at the same nameplates, and look at the technology, the proportions, the design and then the craftsmanship that we’ve achieved, it’s just a completely different level. And we thought we were good 20 years ago, so that was really inspirational.”
Of course, growth was (and still remains) a key priority for Hallmark upon his return.
“When I left Bentley, we were selling 10,000 cars a year. And when I came back, we were still selling 10,000 cars a year,” he says.
But the biggest goal was preparing for a future that 100 years ago would’ve seemed unprecedented for the automobile industry — an electric, carbon neutral future.
Related: It’s Official: Customers Prefer Sustainable Companies
In 2019, Bentley Motors became the first carbon-neutral luxury automotive factory in the UK, located in Crewe, England. This step is one of many that Bentley must take in order to reach its goal of becoming the most sustainable luxury automotive manufacturer in the world.
“Every car will be hybridized. Already the Bentayga and the Flying Spur are and they represent about 65% of our sales. So we’ve already got good coverage of the portfolio,” Hallmark says confidently about the company’s sustainability strategy. “By 2023, we will only offer hybrids. By 2025, we’ll offer our first full-battery electric vehicle as well. And then by 2030, only battery electric vehicles. This is a radical change, but it’s nine years — it’s not nine months.”
The brand debuted its new hybrid range this month during Monterey Car Week, namely the Bentayga Hybrid and the Flying Spur Hybrid alongside each other, marking a new age for the company and its electric efforts.
The push for this change comes “partly because of legislation” as many cities and countries around the world are on track to outlaw engine-only cars by the mid 2030s. The good news? Over 58% of current Bentley customers and potential buyers have said that they would want an electric Bentley vehicle within the next five years — interest that Hallmark says has been “skyrocketing” over the past four years.
“Somebody once said to me, ‘Imagining the future is easy, but managing the transition is tough.’ There will not be a binary change. We won’t go from all engines to all electric overnight,” he explains. “We see this transition as being the key. It’s a dangerous period. But we’ve got security … the technology is there. So we’re confident.”
Related: How Environmentally Sustainable are Electric Cars?
CEO of Bentley Americas, Christophe Georges, seconds Hallmark’s goals. He adds that the company’s sustainability goals and strategies extend beyond the environmental reasons, and include the sustainability of the Bentley brand as a whole.
“It’s about great values — diversity, inclusion, supportive communities. It’s about sustaining the skills we have in our factories, craftsmanship skills, creating substance on the back of luxury — this is our DNA. [It’s about] sustainability in the wider sense,” he says. “We really want to create a positive impact, not only in terms of carbon emission, but in terms of values and making the world a little bit better as well. And as a luxury brand, you have a responsibility towards it … people follow us and follow what the luxury industry is doing.”
Because ultimately, if you have a workforce that is “more and more proud of what they do” as far as abiding by certain sustainability values and initiatives, customers will also take note and want to purchase from a brand that’s dedicated to its workers and its principles.
“It’s quite appealing, you know, to buy a car from a manufacturer that’s taking responsibility and creating an impact,” Georges points out.
Sustainability efforts are a major goal for the Volkswagen Group at large, which houses 12 brands including Bentley, Porsche, Lambroghini, Bugatti and Audi.
Each brand’s unique customer base and price band allow them to work in tandem, something Hallmark explains to us. For example, he notes there is “rarely cross-shopping between Lamborghini customers and Bentley customers” because the two brands’ performance and design goals are completely different, even though they lie relatively in the same price range.
It’s something that Hallmark dubs the “psychological difference” between customers buying a Bentley versus another vehicle in the luxury market.
“We’re not as extreme as Rolls Royce, which is super refined and super luxury, super cool and quiet. We admire them, but we’re not Rolls Royce and we don’t want to be them,” Hallmark explains. “Bentley’s got this perfect combination of the ability to do 207 miles an hour if you want to, or cruise in comfort when you need to, which is most of the time, because not many of us have got the chance to drive 207 miles an hour. But the car can.”
A mom of three might be hesitant to pick her kids up from school in a sports car that costs more than $200,000 (it’s not exactly practical.) But have her jump into a Bentley Bentayga Speed and suddenly she can have both an SUV that’s functional and the experience of driving a luxury vehicle. It’s an idea that in the next 100 years, Hallmark is confident won’t fade as the company makes its transition to an electric future.
“[The goal is] get the current business to be the best it can be — efficient, profitable and as big as it should be in the segment,” Hallmark says. “But then in parallel, prepare this new world, that in next year’s time, somebody else will have the opportunity to take over and take to the next level.”
And if the past 102 years have been any indication, the next nine and beyond are poised to do precisely that.
Related: How Obsessed Will We Soon Be About Electric Cars?