- Bentley's CEO confirms the Mulsanne won’t be replaced by another sedan.
- Instead, the company's ambition is to "fill that space" with a different model, which will almost certainly be an SUV.
- In other plans: W-12 engine set to retire soon; hybridization of all models.
The imminent retirement of the Bentley Mulsanne has raised the question of what—if anything—the British brand plans to offer in the north-of-$300,000 space currently occupied by its most luxurious sedan. We don't have a direct answer to that yet, but after speaking to company boss Adrian Hallmark, we can report that Bentley is giving serious thought to launching an SUV into the vacated space.
We spoke to Hallmark by phone following the recent cancellation of the Geneva auto show. He started by explaining the unassailable commercial logic that led to the decision not to replace the Mulsanne. "In the good old days, 20 years ago, when the Arnage was on the road with the [Rolls-Royce] Silver Seraph, global four-door sales in this part of the market were about 1500 to 2000 a year combined," he said. "Now they are less than 1000, and we are 50 percent of that."
Put simply, those numbers just aren't sufficient to justify the huge expense of developing a direct replacement for the Mulsanne. "The cost of developing those cars with the technology and requirements for emissions and crash mean that they are no less expensive to develop than a car you can sell 5000 a year of," Hallmark explained. "If we only see potential for 400 to 600 a year, it makes the business case extremely tough."
But Bentley does not plan to leave this rarefied part of the market, and an SUV is the most likely candidate. "Our ambition is to fill that price space for sure," Hallmark said. "It will not be a sports car; we will not build sports cars. SUVs were 47 percent of our sales last year. If you look at the segment below us, it's about 50 percent.
"So the clear indication is that both premium-car buyers and luxury-car buyers now see SUVs as being far more attractive."
The new model would not be a direct replacement for the Mulsanne, which retires in a few months, nor will it be the first Bentley EV. A senior company source said it will be launched after the company's first pure electric vehicle, which Hallmark indicated will be on sale in 2025. Whatever shape the range-topping model takes, it won’t be powered by a W-12 engine: Hallmark confirmed that it is set to be phased out relatively soon.
"For 100 years we have tried to make engines bigger and more powerful," Hallmark said. "For the next 10 years we're going to try and make them disappear." For the putative Bentayga-plus SUV, that would almost certainly mean a plug-in-hybrid powertrain, as Bentley has committed to offering a hybrid option on every model by 2023.