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New power generation

Their destination may be the same, but Rolls-Royce and Bentley are taking quite different routes on the road to a battery-powered future, as Ray Massey explains

These are amazing times, with both Rolls-Royce and Bentley accelerating towards an electric future – a destination that, even just a few years ago, might have seemed inconceivable. Both car makers have hit the headlines, outlining their revolutionary plans for “green” but high-performance zero-emissions projects against a background of unparalleled sales.

However, while the final, electrically charged destination for both British luxury car makers is the same – and scheduled to broadly similar tight timetables – their respective strategies for achieving a zero-emissions future are very different.

Bentley Motors is taking a step-by-step approach, using petrol-electric hybrid power, as with the Bentayga Hybrid and the new Flying Spur Hybrid, as a stepping stone en route to fully electric vehicles. The first of five new, purely electric models is due to arrive in 2025, followed by another new model each subsequent year.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, by contrast, is giving hybrid a miss altogether and going straight from petrol to fully electric, with their lightly disguised Spectre first teased in September 2021 and set to go on sale by the end of 2023. The plan is for the entire Rolls-Royce range to be battery-powered by 2030.

Yes, you may wish to pinch yourself, but it really is happening. And at a speed few thought possible. Here’s how each marque, in turn, is progressing.

Rolls-Royce: the Spirit of Ecstasy embraces the spirit of electricity

Rolls-Royce is gliding gracefully to an electric future with its aerodynamic new Spectre. Guided on its way by a newly streamlined Spirit of Ecstasy, this marks the start of a journey towards a fully electrified line-up within the decade.

The coupé-like Spectre was unveiled last year. Wrapped in a covering bearing significant quotes from the firm’s founders, it proved the highlight in a year of record sales and significant milestones. Launched, perhaps cheekily, in the same week as the 007 movie No Time to Die, in which James Bond’s nemesis organisation is called SPECTRE, for Rolls-Royce the name continues the ethereal theme, joining Phantom, Wraith and Ghost.

At the time of writing, the new electric Spectre is embarked on a 1.5-million-mile global testing programme, simulating the equivalent of 400 years of use. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös has stressed that the new green, super-fast and near-silent luxury coupé is “not a prototype”, but rather, “the real thing”. Indeed, bosses believe it is the most significant moment in Rolls-Royce’s history since Charles Rolls and Henry Royce were introduced at Manchester’s Midland Hotel in 1904.

Fittingly, both were early adopters of electric power and propulsion. Royce was one of the first electrical engineers and supplied motors to some of the earliest electric cars. And Rolls championed and owned an early electric motor car, and had a battery-charging station at his car showroom in Lillie Road, Fulham for early Brougham electric models. In 1904, Rolls even agreed to become an agent for the Contal Electromobile electric car but, on seeing Royce’s motor car, he cancelled the agreement.

On its more recent road to an electric future, Rolls-Royce has, within the past decade, produced two prototype electric cars – both ahead of their time, and before the technology and market were fully ready – that provided valuable lessons.

Back in 2011, I road-tested the Phantom EE (codenamed 102EX), which was based on an existing Phantom, replacing its 6.75-litre V12 petrol engine and gearbox with a lithium-ion battery pack and two electric motors that propelled it up to 60mph in eight seconds and with its top speed restricted to 100mph. The car won plaudits for its near-silent performance and innovation, including inductive or “wireless” charging, but the 125-mile range and 20 hours of charging time remained “significant hurdles”, Rolls-Royce conceded.

The second electric Rolls-Royce was the 2016 Vision Next 100 (or 103EX), which went on a three-year world tour, and pushed the limits of how the Rolls-Royce of tomorrow might develop. Skip forward to October 2021, and Müller-Ötvös confirmed that electric power is a propulsion system whose time has come. “We haven’t been satisfied that available technology could support the Rolls-Royce experience, until now,” he said. “Electric drive is uniquely and perfectly suited to Rolls-Royce. It is silent, refined and creates torque almost instantly, generating tremendous power.”

As he stressed, “Electric motors are not new for Rolls-Royce. Sir Henry Royce’s first venture created dynamos and patented the bayonet-style light bulb.”

Rolls-Royce has even redesigned its iconic Spirit of Ecstasy figurine to fly at the prow of the 2023 Spectre and every new vehicle that follows. Spectre will be the most aerodynamic Rolls-Royce ever and therefore merits an even more streamlined and dynamically graceful Flying Lady. The new design was announced on 6 February 2022 to commemorate the 111th anniversary of the date on which the original Spirit of Ecstasy figurine was officially registered as the intellectual property of Rolls-Royce.

The figurine has been remodelled with “a lower, more dynamic stance” that brings her much closer to the drawings produced by her original creator, the illustrator and sculptor Charles Sykes, in the early years of the 20th century.

The new Spirit of Ecstasy stands at a fraction over 8.2cm tall, compared to her predecessor’s 10cm. In her original 1911 form, she was a statuesque 18cm in her bare feet; by the 1960s, she had passed through eight iterations and measured a more petite 11cm in height.

“Her robes, which flow behind her in the slipstream – often but erroneously characterised as ‘wings’ – have been subtly reshaped to make them more aerodynamic and realistic,” explains the company. But the most visible change in her stance is that “previously, she has stood with her feet together, legs straight and tilting at the waist. Now, she is a true goddess of speed, braced for the wind, one leg forward, body tucked low, her eyes focused eagerly ahead.”

Although the new figurine created for Spectre will appear on all future models, Rolls-Royce says that the current design will continue to be used on Phantom, Ghost, Wraith, Dawn and Cullinan, and Black Badge variants, where applicable.

“The Spirit of Ecstasy is the most famous and desirable automotive mascot in the world,” says Müller-Ötvös. “In her new form, she is more streamlined and graceful than ever before – the perfect emblem for the most aerodynamic Rolls-Royce ever created, and for gracing the prow of our bold electric future.”

Bentley: a 21st-century take on British Racing Green

Bentley roared into 2022 with a scene-stealing, electrically charged flourish that really gave a new twist to the classic “British Racing Green”.

Against a background of record sales and profits, Bentley not only launched the new Flying Spur Hybrid in sunny California’s Beverly Hills and Hollywood, but also announced a bumper £2.5 billion investment in its UK factory to fulfil its “green dream” of building fully electric luxury performance cars in Britain.

The first fully electric Bentley will roll off the production line in 2025. “Key to the ambitious programme will be the Five-in-Five plan,” explained the company in January 2022, “which commits Bentley to launching a new electric model each year, from 2025.” Bentley chiefs said that its new, fully electric “game-changer” car for 2025 will be “large, sporty and fast” and the first in a new cycle of five electric cars with all-new body styles.

An early hint at Bentley’s electrified future was given during the firm’s 2019 centenary celebrations with the reveal of the all-electric EXP 100 GT concept car, which was used to launch the firm’s “Beyond100” strategy for its second century.

Intriguingly, computer-generated illustrations of similar-looking hi-tech cars being built on an ultra-modern production line were issued by Bentley to illustrate what the £2.5 billion investment will deliver. So, we can expect the first electric Bentley to bear more than a passing stylistic resemblance to the EXP 100 GT, I predict.

“This is the biggest transformation in Bentley’s history,” said Bentley Chairman and Chief Executive Adrian Hallmark. “We will reinvent the company. Trust me, there’s a lot more to come.” With a smile, he added, “It’s really exciting. It’s not scary.”

The new cash injection is a critical step in the Beyond100 strategy of the company, which is now part of Germany’s giant Volkswagen Group, and sees Bentley under the umbrella of electric-power leader Audi. Bentley says the new “Dream Factory” will elevate the company’s Crewe site into “a world-leading, next-generation digital, low environmental impact, high-value, advanced manufacturing facility” that combines craftsmanship and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques.

Further far-reaching green moves are in progress, as Bentley continues “evolving from the world’s largest producer of 12-cylinder petrol engines to having no internal combustion engines within a decade” and “reinventing itself as a leader in sustainable luxury mobility”.

“Beyond100 is the boldest plan in Bentley’s illustrious history,” said Hallmark. “It’s an ambitious and credible roadmap to carbon neutrality of our total business system, including the shift to a 100 per cent battery electric vehicle, or BEV, in just eight years.

“Our aim is to become the benchmark, not just for luxury cars or sustainable credentials but the entire scope of our operations,” he continued. “Securing production of our first BEV in Crewe is a milestone moment for Bentley, and the UK, as we plan for a long-term sustainable future in Crewe.”

The company says that it will reinvent every aspect of its business across its entire range of operations and products, noting, “Bentley’s first-ever BEV will be developed and built in the UK. It is a major boost for the UK economy and also helps secure Bentley’s first step into electrification at the production plant, where all Bentley models are built and 4,000 colleagues work”.

More than 20 per cent of Bentley sales in 2022 will come from petrol-electric hybrid cars, says Bentley. Sales in 2021 were already up nearly a third, with record deliveries of 14,659 cars to customers worldwide – an increase of 31 per cent on its previous record year in 2020. It highlighted “unprecedented” demand for its petrol-electric hybrid models, spearheaded by the Bentayga SUV and the new Flying Spur.

Some one in five Bentayga sales alone are of new hybrid models as Bentley commits to being “the first fully electrified and zero-carbon luxury car company in the world”. Significantly, the new Flying Spur Hybrid variant is set to boost the model’s 27 per cent of total sales even further in 2022, said Bentley. Powered by a 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine combined with an advanced electric motor, it delivers a total of 544hp, propelling the car from rest to 60mph in 4.1 seconds up to a top speed of 177mph, and with an electric-only range of 25 miles.

The electric motor is powered by a 14.1kWh lithium-ion battery that can be fully charged in two and a half hours. It is Bentley’s second hybrid, following on from the Bentayga Hybrid SUV, which it exceeds in power by 95hp.

Bentley says it is “the most efficient Bentley ever”, capable of covering 434 miles when fully fuelled, offering a significant reduction in fuel consumption without compromising performance. In October 2021, Bentley even ran a Flying Spur Hybrid across Iceland for 455 miles using biofuel made from waste straw.

Bosses say that Bentley’s groundbreaking sales are a testament to the workforce and to measures taken to continue production despite Covid, global shortages of key computer chips needed in modern cars, and an increase in demand for the new hybridised models.

To help fulfil Bentley’s commitment to being carbon neutral by 2030, the company intends to step up on-site energy production at Crewe, aiming to increase the number of solar panels from 30,000 to 40,000 in the next two years. It is also investigating the use of sustainable “green” biofuel in its on-site vehicles, including fleet cars and its iconic Heritage Collection, and plans to reduce water consumption, waste to landfill and other environmental impacts to an absolute minimum for every vehicle built in Crewe.

“Simultaneously accelerating our Beyond100 strategy and securing battery electric vehicle production at Crewe, alongside a £2.5 billion investment, makes this a major landmark in Bentley’s 102-year history,” says Hallmark. “The world is changing and we need to play our part in neutralising our environmental impact. That means delivering on our aim to be end-to-end carbon neutral by 2030.”

Ray Massey is Motoring Editor at the Daily Mail