Autonomous driving and virtual butlers: Bentley introduces its softly radical future

Autonomous driving and virtual butlers: Bentley introduces its softly radical future

The Bentley of a decade or so from now will not look radically different. Yet, be prepared for a marque that is imagining a highly progressive future, one that will adopt advanced production methods, offer sustainable materials, embrace autonomous driving and even offer a virtual butler.

‘For the future I see some kind of avatar who can organise your time; somebody you can talk to for a more personalised experience,’ says Stefan Sielaff, Bentley’s director of design. ‘We have to be able to connect with digital natives – our future customers.’

Sielaff presents us with an imagined autonomous Mulsanne cabin. It offers a classic luxury living room environment, yet is also a highly technical space replete with a holographic character on the wraparound infotainment screen. The flexible, 0.5mm-thick paper-thin material is in development stage, but Bentley is convinced it represents the future.

Sielaff says millennials will have different expectations from their cars and stresses that ‘Bentley has to react’. This means offering a new level of digitisation, but also shifting its internal attitude away from only working with materials and technology conventionally associated with luxury.

Without dismissing the craft heritage and classic luxury materials, the artisanal skills and expertise embodied by Bentley’s Mulliner division will now extend to advanced materials. Accordingly, Bentley is responding to lifestyles from all over the world. ‘They are influencing our behaviour and new thinking is definitely coming into the luxury car sector.’

Stone veneer, slate and quartz cut to 0.7mm are already being offered as alternatives to wood and metal. In textiles, the marque is researching into cashmere for cars, developing substitute protein leather, and creating intricate patterns from recycled carbon fibre.

Bentley is also is working with 3D printing to create more complex patterns in the radiator grille, and the cut whisky glass has informed the kaleidoscope-style animation inside the light bulbs to reveal the Bentley logo and welcome the driver in unexpected ways.

The ’Flying B’ mascot and ’Winged B’ badge will remain but could be refreshed. ‘We have some ideas for three-dimensional OLEDs,’ says Sielaff, referring to the organic LED technology that emits light in response to an electric current.

Bentley design will continue to respond to its British heritage through what Sielaff calls ‘fusion of extremes’, with the sporting and luxury models at either end – the gap now widening to allow for a larger family of cars. The latest EXP 10 Speed 6 coupé concept, we’re told, is being considered for production.

‘We have many different targets to fulfil,’ Sielaff concludes, ‘but when you smell, feel and touch the car, you must always think: “this is a Bentley”.’

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