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Can Bentley’s 100th birthday present to itself ward off doom?
SINGAPORE turns 54 years old in August - which is only a little more than half the time Bentley has spent building luxury grand tourers.
The storied brand celebrates its 100th anniversary this month, and having made it to the age that gets every Briton a congratulatory letter from the Queen, it unveiled a birthday present to itself.
The EXP 100 GT is an experimental vehicle that straddles the luxurious world of its grand past, and a future full of disruptive tech that might not even have a place for private cars.
That future has car makers scrambling to develop self-driving systems and electric powertrains. Neither feature in today's Bentleys, but both are found in the EXP 100 GT, which is the brand's vision of what luxury touring will look like in 2035.
A big car, it portends big things. The EXP 100 GT is 5.8 m long, and its fabulous vertically opening doors are a mammoth 2.5 m in length. It is powered by electricity - the way cars are expected to be tomorrow.
Yet, while battery power is seen as a way to make cars more sustainable, the EXP 100 GT is meant to highlight that there are other things worth preserving.
Adrian Hallmark, chief executive of Bentley Motors, said that sustainability is often used in relation to the environment, but pointed out the artisanal human element that served as the backbone for many aspects of bespoke coachwork has a place in the future, too.
"Throughout human history, mankind has created art and amazing objects because it motivates us. It's deeper than just the pure ownership or aesthetic value. People appreciate a high degree of human skill, and they appreciate the provenance of materials," he told The Business Times. "Both the human intelligence behind the execution and the provenance of the materials will become important in the future."
The EXP 100 GT is meant to showcase this new approach to luxury. Its cabin is trimmed with Copperwood, a 5,000 year-old material reclaimed from copper-infused riverwood.
The seats are upholstered with an organic waste textile from wine making, and there are British-farmed wool carpets and embroidered cotton interior surfaces.
The exterior paint is made from recycled rice husks.
Bentley said that the EXP 100 GT is capable of full autonomous drive, which might sound strange for a brand that prides itself on its powerful cars and rich sporting heritage.
Yet, Bentley believes that self-driving technology will not make its cars obsolete. "The reason why the EXP 100 GT has a steering wheel and pedals is to show it is still driver-focused," Mr Hallmark said. "We don't believe that full autonomous driving in all conditions is going to be available, but when it is, or when you choose to relax on a long journey, this car can do both."
Bentleys are about soothing journeys, after all, and sometimes that is best delivered by a chauffeur. What better than one that comes with the car? "Most people have moments when they don't want to worry about driving, such as during my seven-hour drive back to Crewe after the Goodwood Festival of Speed, for instance," Mr Hallmark said, referring to a journey from the south of England to Bentley's headquarters near the Welsh border. "If I could drive only when I wanted to and still get around, I'd be very happy," Mr Hallmark said. "This is compatible with Bentley's ethos, because it is fun on demand."
In plotting a roadmap to the future, it helps to know where you have come from.