Luc Donckerwolke had a clear vision for the future of Bentley when he joined as design director two-and-a-half years ago. He had spent his career working at the various marques under the Volkswagen Group umbrella, including Audi, Skoda and Seat, and at Lamborghini where he gained fame for penning such cars as the Murciélago and Gallardo.
At Bentley, Donckerwolke immersed himself in the brand, soaking up the heritage, the customers, the workings at the factory in Crewe, to distil what it should be in the future and how design could express this. He brought with him a new team of designers – the ‘dream team’ as he likes to refer to them – and made plans for a modern studio near the site in Crewe. He then set about sketching the Bentayga SUV and refreshing the current family.
It is, however, the EXP 10 Speed 6 coupé concept that is the expression of Donckerwolke’s ideas. Unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, this elegant two-seat sports car is a tantalising glimpse into the future of the marque.
We caught up with him prior to the show...
Wallpaper*: What was your intention with the EXP 10 Speed 6 concept car?
Luc Donckerwolke: It shows the DNA of the brand for the future. This is a driver’s car - a more extrovert Bentley designed for the customer who is willing to explore this incredible performance car. It is aiming at the emotional side, designed to complement the brand and not be a substitute for another product.
W*: As a hybrid car how do you see it fitting into the Bentley family?
LD: This is a modern car and the first time we are doing a hybrid sports car. The technology is efficient and fitting for Bentley because of the silence and additional torque. So it signals enjoying hybrid as a way to be sportier, for better performance.
W*: What was your brief to the design team?
LD: I wanted the car to be much more sculptural, much more sexy, much more dynamic. I wanted the team to be bold, experimental... for us to question every classic Bentley element. I definitely wanted more emotion from the designers and I’ve never seen a team so motivated, so hungry to change things.
W*: How difficult was it to challenge Bentley conventions?
LD: We could reset the normal attributes because we were doing much more of an athletic car. We wanted to design a car that suggests agility, dynamics, athleticism - to be bionic. The idea is to almost wrap the components in a minimalist coverage unveiling the athletic side. It is clothing a technical skeleton. Much like how James Bond has evolved, the car has to be rougher, darker, more sinister. It has to show a contrast to the modern environment. This would be the car that Bond would be driving if he were to return to his origins!
W*: You have questioned some of the marque’s classic design cues…
LD: Yes we wanted to challenge some of the main Bentley attributes. For instance the grille has been dropped to be much lower. The wheels are strongly sculptured; they are dynamic, show movement. We took the oval lights out of their frame. We looked at architecture, material use, patterns, structures, new ways of constructing to influence the design details. Architectural meshing, for instance, informed the grille design. The Bentley grille has blades of metal that are dissected, but now it feels like it is naturally fused together. For the light design we replaced the chromed plastics in the construction with sculpted industrial crystal.
W*: How does the interior design express the future?
LD: Here it is all about lightness as this is a driver’s car. There is a really strong graphic theme around the wings, which are floating, not solid like in other cars. We are demonstrating different uses for classic materials. Normally we have quilting in the leather; here we have introduced quilted wood.
W*: This being very much a modern hybrid performance car, how did you balance the digital and analogue elements on the instrument panel?
LD: We wanted to blend modern technology with the nostalgia of the sports car. We know that digital precision is a given, we also know that the craftsmanship of the mechanical side is fascinating, so how do you blend the two. Digital can be quite flat so you need the analogue to give it dimension. We have a full screen directly in front of the driver’s view. On the one side is the digital world, and the other side is the analogue in the rev counter. Much like a sports watch, we have inverted this so we have an analogue instrument with digital one inside.
W*: Who did you have in mind when working on this project?
LD: Ah, the new Bentley boy! Someone who wants to drive, who is extravert, sporty, willing to explore the incredible performance of this car.
W*: How challenging was it to design a performance car that retains the marque’s sense of luxury and timelessness?
LD: Performance is about being minimalistic, having less than what you need. Luxury is also about keeping only the essentials. This is when we thought we can let things go; challenge what we can get rid of and what we can keep.
W*: You seem to be very clear in your vision for Bentley.
LD: We are not wiping out things for the sake of the ego, but evolving them for the future without dogmas, without bias. We are weighing what is essential and what is no longer needed.
This couldn’t be a one-off project; we wanted it to impact on the way we work. It had to be a message not only to the outside, but also to the inside, to Bentley, that our attitudes are changing.
W*: Is this a purely conceptual project?
LD: Today we are talking purely about conceptual. Obviously we all dream of doing this car - we want this car to hit the streets.