Through the first nine months of the year, Bentley sold 6,654 units, an 11 percent decline from the 7,498 units sold through the first nine months of 2017. In addition to other matters like huge investments in new technologies, that helped the Crewe carmaker to a $44.7-million year-over-year drop in revenue, and a $156-million overall loss, compared to a $35 million profit over the same period last year.
On top of declining sales overall, the nine-month delay in launching the Continental GT, the brand’s second-best seller, was the first of two big issues causing red finances. Hallmark said the Continental GT “just wasn’t ready for launch. But we’d paid for it – we’d paid all the money out, but not got any money back in.”
Having got that sorted, the second issue arose: WLTP certification. Unlike the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) before it, the Worldwide harmonized Light vehicles Test Procedure requires every model variant get tested for certification. Hallmark told Automotive News Europe, “We were not quick enough unfortunately to book capacity or prioritize our derivatives within some of the group processes to get them certified on time.” Bentley wasn’t alone in this; Volkswagen had only managed to get seven of its 14 models approved by September 1 when the WLTP rules took effect.
Bentley’s much smaller scale exacerbated the problem, turning the situation “close to catastrophic.” Hallmark said the snafu robbed the Bentayga of 300 to 400 sales – a gigantic number with respect to a $200,000 vehicle – and pushed the Bentayga plug-in hybrid launch back to March 2019 so Bentley could get volume models certified.
Furthermore, preparing for Brexit hasn’t been easy on any of the UK’s manufacturers. For Bentley, which sources many components from The Continent, uncertainty around a Brexit deal has weakened the pound sterling against the euro. That makes parts more expensive.
The carmaker’s already on the road back, led by the uncorked Bentayga V12, V8, and Continental GT, and just-revealed GTC. The CEO said Bentley be back in black in Q4 of this year, but 2019 is the real measure. “This year is a conversion year to a better business model,” he said, “and next year you will start to see significant growth and a return to normality in terms of profit.”
The phrase “significant growth” doesn’t just apply to sales figures of the current lineup. Hallmark intends to grow the range, and Bentley’s interests beyond cars. Plug-in hybrid versions of current models will help build the bridge to a battery-electric offering by 2025. Engineers are aiming for substantial EV range in the hybrids, eventually around 60 to 70 miles. It seems Bentley turned down the chance to build its own car on Porsche’s Taycan platform, because a GT car isn’t a sports car, and it won’t be until the mid 2020s that “the [battery] technology will meet the needs of the bigger cars we need to build.”
The other bridge-builder will be a new nameplate “that will probably be… the transition between conventional products and battery electrical products.”
On the subject of conventional products, the Bentayga will evolve with a facelift and a coupe-ish sub-model, but Hallmark wouldn’t be drawn on that latter point. With an eye on launching something new every year, Mulliner will be drafted into creating more “limited or special editions, slightly different body styles or limited-run cars.” Next year being the centenary, we already know there’ll be something special for every current nameplate.
Once the traditional sheetmetal business is back on track, Hallmark wants more involvement in brick-and-mortar businesses. The firm designed 26 apartments in Miami’s Porsche Tower and will provide on-demand Bentleys for residents, there’s a Bentley furniture collection, a re-upped agreement with watchmaker Breitling, and plans for more jewelry. We’ll see how it turns out, but this could be the road map to that makes The Flying B soar.