No robots allowed at Bentley plant
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Sometimes there’s just no substitute for old school and there’s no doubt Bentley, celebrating their 100th birthday this month, is masterful at balancing time-honoured methodology with the newest technology and letting that manifest tastefully into the final product.
Touring the brand’s Crewe production plant, the very same facility that assembled Merlin engines to power Spitfires during the war, we see high-tech machinery working in unison with skilled craftsmen and women.
On one side of the floor huge laser cutters form precision upholstery and interior pieces, on the other workers take four years learning how to laminate Bentley’s renowned wood veneers and fine tuning the organic material for final fit. They join a pool of expert upholsterers sewing seats and trim with remarkable precision.
Without question, there’s a level of manual labour on the production line that’s massively disproportionate to other production plants I’ve seen.
But you may have heard, we’re amidst the automotive revolution. Cars are becoming less and less analogue by the minute and electric motors aren’t artisan like a Merlin V-12 was.
Are we to believe Bentley can maintain the hands-on craftsmanship forged over the last century in tomorrow’s world of autonomy? Bentley don’t just believe they can, they’re doubling down as we join the world’s media at the global reveal of the striking EXP 100 GT design study.
Sadly, this 5.8 metre behemoth of polished aluminium and copper is not planned for production.
But it does signify the start point of Bentley’s technology and design roadmap until 2035.
And with luxurious, sustainable materials like paint formulated from rice husks, 5000 year-old rescued wood infused with copper and an eye on built-by-hand components as there is now, Bentley workers aren’t at risk of becoming mere parts fitters anytime soon. In fact, as Bentley’s strategy is brought to life we can expect it to spawn a new wave of ‘digital craftspeople’.
They will forge the future of luxury mobility, which for Bentley, focusses heavily on experience and luxury services.
The EXP 100 GT offers a Bentley virtual assistant, allows real-time health and wellbeing monitoring via bio-metric seats and the smart glass roof, engage your children with live educational content like explaining cloud formations as they pass overhead. Your personal A.I profile and memories captured from previous drives can be reused to replicate a sun-soaked driving experience even if the real world is grey and overcast.
Bentley also aims to introduce light as a new material in which to convey luxury. All new generations will start to deploy an illuminated version of the familiar flying B bonnet emblem and the use of light will only grow more impressive with each generation from there.
The EXP 100 GT’s seat and dash materials are interwoven with fibre optic lighting for a distinctly pleasant environment. When you’re not cooling a combustion engine, the front grille presents many possibilities to play with lighting and 3D printing of all manner of materials.
Headlights are hand-cut crystal and around the back high definition OLED screens replace rear lamps, delivering configurable and evolving aesthetics, improved visibility and potential messaging of other road users.
Between today and 2035, Bentley envisage hybrid fuel cell together with batteries as the best mid-term powertrain solution to the luxury sector and the EXP 100 GT is no exception with 100kW of power supplied via fuel cell and a further 500kW via 4 electric motors. Batteries can be charged via the hydrogen fuel cell or from the plug.
It all looks hyper-futuristic, but in reality Bentley aren’t making spaceships here. While cost prohibitive to scale for immediate production, the technology and production techniques showcased are realistically all within arm’s reach right now.
Bentley has given themselves quite the birthday present with the EXP 100 GT, celebrating their 100 years of craftsmanship while also firmly reassuring dedication to a hand-built and technology-rich future.