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Bentley 2023 Fleet

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bentley's Adrain Hallmark on why the automaker is big on bespoke Image SuppliedBentley is considered the king of customisation. Here’s why: In 2023, around three-quarters of its customers went beyond the 46 billion different configurations on offer from the standard options range to add bespoke ‘content’ from Bentley’s Mulliner division. And here’s another exciting fact, this number represents a 43 per cent rise over 2022.

This achievement also marks the British luxury automaker’s third-best year, with global sales hitting 13,560 luxury cars. The figure, though, showed an 11 per cent decrease over 2022. Bentley reported sales of 15,174 in this year, breaking all its previous records. The year 2021 also witnessed strong sales, with the luxury brand selling 14,659 cars.

Looking at the regional performance, Asia Pacific saw sales rise by 5 per cent, while the Middle East, India and Africa saw numbers grow by 2 per cent.

These results can be attributed to Hallmark’s results-focused brand stewardship since he took over the reins in 2018. The automaker’s CEO was in Dubai recently to mark the UAE launch of the Bentayga Mulliner EWB. During his visit, Hallmark, and Richard Leopold, regional director for the UK, Middle East, Africa and India, spoke to Gulf Business about the brand’s robust performance and the region’s penchant for customisation. Here are excerpts from the discussion:

Tell us about your strategy to drive the company’s lagging performance when you took over as CEO in 2018. How did you help Bentley survive the ‘perfect storm’?

Seven years ago, when I re-joined the company, I shared my five-point plan with the team. The company was launching new cars at the time. But the delays and the non-availability of cars for well over a year, particularly in the case of the Flying Spur, were big issues. However, underneath it all, it was easy to see that the company was solid. We had great products and we just needed to address and solve the issues impacting delivery. The first order of the day was to get the business running and fix the ‘profitability’ issue because it was critical. The second was to get the growth that we deserved with those new products.

The market had grown significantly over the past five to ten years, but we had the same volume while everything else was taking off. The price segment trebled in the last 15 years, but we didn’t. So, getting our entitlement from these new products was a priority.

The third goal was a big one. It was to get ready for the next wave of emissions legislation (EU7, C7 and the equivalent US legislation) because it’s arriving any time now, and this is bigger than what almost killed us in 2018 (Hallmark is referring to the EUR55m loss the company sustained). I wanted to build the operational processes to make the company strong to be able to develop and launch products effectively right the first time.

The fourth was to ‘start’ the electrification journey and to do that through a breakthrough in design, first with hybrids, to make sure that our carbon emissions were on target right the way up until the point where we get battery electric vehicles (BEVs). You’ll be hearing more about that in due course. We already have the Flying Spur and Bentayga hybrids. We promised they would all be hybridised before the end of 2026 and that’s the case.

The fifth is to ‘become’ electric. In our Beyond100 strategy, we committed to becoming a global pioneer in sustainable luxury mobility. That means becoming fully carbon-neutral, from our factory to the cars we create, by 2030. Our suppliers are also expected to meet minimum sustainability standards ­— and by 2025, our entire global retailer network will be carbon neutral too.

This focus has helped us get on track and achieve the results we’ve seen over the past three years.

Any words on your performance in 2023?

The luxury market was not immune from the challenging market conditions seen around the world in H2 2023 and despite this, we were able to deliver our third-highest retail position in history and enter 2024 with a strong order bank.

Building on this, our quality of sales was much greater, with significant increases in our higher-value derivatives, and a significant growth in demand for bespoke personalisation.

What were the top-selling cars in 2023?

Customers showed a preference for higher priced models such as Azure, S and Speed, the mix of which reached 70 per cent of our sales, up from 30 per cent in 2022. The Bentayga EWB also exceeded expectations reaching more than a third of the company’s SUV orders in its first year on sale.

Bentley’s range of hybrid vehicles remained popular, with the UK being the leading market with one in four Flying Spur and Bentayga customers choosing the hybrid option. Bentayga remained Bentley’s number one model, accounting for 44 per cent of total sales. Continental GT and GT Convertible accounted for nearly a third of sales, 31 per cent, with the Flying Spur, the luxury four-door grand tourer, reaching 25 per cent of total sales.

The Americas maintained its position as the biggest selling global market. Bentley’s home market in the UK represented the top region for sales of hybrid models number one selling region for hybrid models by proportion, with 27 per cent of sales in 2023 selected as a hybrid option.

 What are some of the unique trends you see in the regional market?

Wherever you go in the world and walk into a Bentley showroom, you’ll see a different mix of vehicles. In this region, you see the bright colours, the interesting interiors and preference for customisation. Buyers here are more interested in creating something unique and more personal to their tastes. The retailers are also braver because they anticipate and can see what customers want.

Customisation is critical for Bentley. To give you an example, the Middle East’s total sales make up around 7 to 8 per cent of our global sales. However, the coach-built or customised cars (the cars that cost circa EUR2m) make up 25 per cent of our global sales.

We want to create more of these coach-built cars. And these are for collectors. Yes, you can drive them every day, they’re still doing 207 miles per hour, they’re certified and safe, exactly like our core products because of the values and processes we follow. There’s also the offer of exclusivity. There are only 12 people in the world that have got one of these cars and you’re probably the only person in Dubai that’s got one. Then we have our bespoke ‘content’ and this has been a key factor in our success over the past few years. So it’s not just the volume growth but it’s the value per car.

What we’ve got with the Mulliner (Bentley’s in-house bespoke and personalisation division) is an “innovation” team, and that’s what they are there to do. They look at what customers do with their cars when they’ve taken them from us, how they’ve modified them, etc. They talk to buyers and ask: “What would you do if you could do anything with the car?”

Based on their findings, the team come up with ideas and fill a hopper every year. As soon as the ideas go into production, we industrialise them and ensure their quality, taking them away from the Mulliner team. And it’s done in the same way as a standard car. That means Mulliners are redundant every year. So the team goes out every year to find a new set of ideas that respond to changing customer needs, and the cycle repeats. It is a constant rebirth of ideas at the top end and making them work down the same assembly line with the same quality as every other car — it’s been our key process.

Tell us about your plans for introducing sustainability across your operations and cars.

Sustainability is relevant for our customers, even if they don’t demand it necessarily, we know it will be in the future. So not just at the factory but also with our retail partners around the world, we’re focused on making a difference.

In 2022, we received our carbon-neutral certification in the UK. I’m happy to say that all our retail sites in the GCC states have received their carbon-neutral certification as well. So it is relevant for the customers and it’s also on the doorstep here that we’re taking action. This means that the teams here are engaging with constant improvements. They have to get the qualifications and also look at what they use. Some of those are physical measures, others are not. So it may be solar power, but it may also be the production of plastic, etc. They do this constantly and consistently.

If you go back three years, there was a massive push by all governments to make electric vehicles (EVs). There was no discussion about alternative technologies or whether all EVs are equal, whether they’re all clean. For example, if they’re made from electricity generated by coal-fired power stations or wind energy, they’ve got a totally different C02 footprint.

Even if customers aren’t asking for sustainability or prepared to pay for it today, we believe that luxury has a perfect symbiosis with sustainability. It’s make it better, keep it longer, fix it and don’t throw it away. If you take that principle, you could turn it the other way and say we could be seen as the poster child, the symbol of excessive consumption and resource use for no ultimate purpose.

So we want to make sure that luxury has zero critique. And we can do it, so why wouldn’t we? And ultimately, if we do build clean cars and we run them clean, when that gets measured, we’ll be ahead of the game.  And we can claim that high ground.

So even if customers don’t shout for it today, they’ll be proud of it when they realise what they’ve bought and we’ll educate them.

How soon will that happen?

We may move around a little bit in terms of time, and that’s because the ban on the sale of internal combustion engines (ICE) is being delayed in the UK.

The EU7 has been changed in Europe and others will follow; they’ll soften the regulation. We may now be able to sell more of our current cars right up until the deadline, whereas we were expecting them to drop off quickly. So we won’t be building brand new ICE cars, but we may well as enhance the ones seeing that we have more time. That’s a sensible way to go forward, I think.

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