It’s easy to imagine your average Bentley owner (or any other ultra-luxury car brand, for that matter) sitting in a lavish den somewhere, the Chesterfield sofa beneath them wrapped in perfectly aged leather and walls perhaps decorated with their hunting conquests.
For some, that’s a stomach-churning image. But the truth is, we’ve almost always related extreme wealth with the hides of departed animals, from chinchilla coats to the ivory keys on a grand piano.
But then, somewhere along the line, money changed. And while this new generation of the mega-rich seems just as happy to spend every bit as generously, they care more about where that money goes, their social conscience having followed them to the top of the (preferably unlogged, old-growth) corporate tree.
It’s left companies like Bentley scrambling to find new ways to appeal to them, and electric motors simply aren’t enough. So that means new materials, sustainably sourced. It means new vegan leathers. It means eco-friendly wood.
We’ve entered a new era of luxury defined by sustainability, and that’s a place we’ve never been before.
“Sure, some people buy on that tradition. But there’s also a much larger target group that don’t buy luxury cars who I think would be attracted to products with ethical authenticity,” says Bentley Chairman and CEO, Adrian Hallmark.
“We want to go into the materials themselves and the sourcing of those materials and ensure that they’re totally ethically and environmentally sustainable. And I believe this will be a USP for the brand if we get it right.”
Yes, change is coming to one of the oldest and most prestigious car brands on the planet, with Bentley suddenly eyeing the eco-friendly prize. Some of those changes are still off in the distance, while others are already here.
Take the Bentley EXP 100 GT, a sleek and stylish concept car designed to celebrate the brand’s storied 100-year history. It is one that also previews the very changes that will keep the company relevant for the next 100 years.
The EXP 100 GT is electric, of course. And it’s capable of driving itself autonomously. But the real secrets are hidden beneath its aluminium and carbon fibre exterior structure.
“We’re not yet at the point where we’re there with the current way that we do things, but we’re all becoming more enlightened,” Hallmark says. “We all see things differently now and we want to be ahead of that curve. So the thing about our EXP 100 GT, beyond the beauty of the design, the powertrain or the zero-emission tailpipe, is to showcase our vision for the interior.
“There is still some leather in it, but only on the seat surfaces that you actually touch. Everything else is synthetic leather. All the carpets are made from organic wool. All the cotton is locally woven, locally sourced and chemical-free.
“So is the wool. And we know who rears the sheep and sheers them, how it’s processed, how the stuff is treated and where it all goes. And you could identify all of that, including the name of the sheep that your wool came from. Or of the 16 that all contributed their haircuts to go into your carpet.”
The new vegan leather — made in an exclusive collaboration with Italian company, Vegea — is derived from grape skins, stalks and seeds, all by-products of the wine-making process. The wooden trim? That’s crafted from 5,000-year-old oak trees that have been petrified, producing a concrete-like veneer that’s then brought back to life by the Bentley team. Retrieved from the Fenland basin in England, it’s both incredibly rare and incredibly expensive, costing 65 times more than the wood the company normally uses — which make it all the more appealing to the luxury marque’s target market.
“It’s fallen wood, so it’s out of the CO2 cycle already,” Hallmark explains. “How many more of those kinds of materials can we find, and then upcycle if you like, into something that is pure luxury?
Even the exterior paint of the EXP 100 GT is produced from a process that uses recycled rice husks, a by-product of the rice industry.
“For me, it’s luxury, and putting your money somewhere that relates to your values. Customers are asking, ‘When can I have that?’ It’s that simple.”
This story first appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of A Magazine.