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Revealed: Bentley's interior of the future

Flexible screens, stone veneers and silk upholstery: is this a new definition of luxury?

  • Bentley. A brand so emphatically associated with handcrafted wood and leather that the image and connection is almost as deeply ingrained as one of its walnut dashboards. But the company gave TG an insight into a future direction more allied with its upcoming millennial client base, and the results are more surprising than you might expect. Bentley, but not as we know it.

    Why? Well, design boss Stefan Sielaff and his team presented a vision that sees traditionalist, old-school Bentley embracing technology and materials as yet unavailable in the industry, and incorporating them into future Bentley product. An amalgam of the new and the old. Technological traditional.

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  • Sielaff's presentation showcased an ambition to deliver a broader product range and the news was good: a smaller, sportier flying B in the shape of the performance-biased Speed 6 at one end, and a larger more luxurious saloon at the other. And while those excited about the prospect of the Speed 6 joining the line up will have to wait until 2018/19, the good news is that we also clocked a brief glimpse of next year’s all-new Continental GT. Think of it as a more practical mating of the current GT and some of the stronger design elements of the Speed 6 concept - like its ‘whisky glass’ lighting and more complex surfacing - and you won’t be too wide of the mark.

  • But this delve into Bentley’s future plans was aimed somewhere in the far distance, and the challenges it will face as a company keeping up with ever-evolving tech. And while the idea of scrambling a strangely menacing-looking holographic car butler from the comfort of your self-driving Bentley ‘lounge’ may be all a bit trite for most, there's method in the future gazing.

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  • Mainly because the concept of ‘New luxury’ will be defined by the tech partnerships and materials science tie-ups that Bentley is involved in right now. While the company's hard-won reputation for handcrafted luxury will continue to appeal, for the brand to survive and remain relevant it has to turn the heads of a broader, younger audience. ‘Millennials’ and ‘Generation Z’ were both frequently referenced in addition to (somewhat more bizarrely) ‘vegan Bentley owners from San Francisco’ - which made this upper-class slice of the UK automotive industry sound a bit like Google.

  • But it’s not quite as pretentious as it sounds. Attitudes and times are changing, and fashion brings buying power - it’s hard for a vegan to square the ownership of this particular slice of automotive luxury on many levels, not least when you take into account the fact that it takes 18 cow hides to trim a Mulsanne interior. So it comes as no surprise that the interiors team - led by the most excellently-named Romulus Rost - are looking at developing partnerships with textile companies who specialise in silk fabrics, and vastly more cow-friendly Protein Leather. Which contains no actual cow.

  • But the development of more millennial/vegan-friendly  - or more importantly sustainable  - materials doesn’t end there, because Bentley has actually managed to bend stone to its will. Yes, you did read that correctly - Bentley has managed to veneer its interiors in actual stone. Currently an option only available through the Mulliner bespoke department but clearly destined for the wider market, in place of traditional wood, you can now have stone facings. At 0.1mm thick, the Quartzite veneer can be formed around the usual Bentley interior shapes and because it requires less bonding agent, it's actually lighter than the traditional wooden alternative.

  • But stone isn’t the only thing Bentley is working on bending. Connectivity, and specifically how we engage with our car’s technology will become a Big Thing in the future, and the company is already looking at next-gen system architecture. At the moment, traditional infotainment systems have focused on regular flat screen technology (as above), one of the biggest being Tesla’s 17in central control unit. But the flatness of the screen and the hardware that needs packaging up in the background has a detrimental effect on how a car’s dash can be designed.

    Basically, you’ve got to have somewhere to put all that stuff, and it needs a flat acreage of dash. Bentley’s answer is a bendable plastic OLED touchscreen just 0.7mm thick. Doesn’t sound like much, but such a thing would revolutionise the design of a car interior. The flexibility of packaging, and the fact that the screens can be placed and curved to suit the interior aesthetic, combined with the fact that concave screens remove reflection is big news; a multimedia silver bullet.

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  • It would be easy to dismiss some of this future gazing as somewhat irrelevant fantasy but with so much of the material technology available now and the future tech clearly just around the corner it’s never been more relevant. Bentley's scale and brand positioning make it a prime partner for exclusive next generation technology and materials development. While it would be madness to turn its back on a century of world-class craftsmanship, it’s good to know they have a clear focus on the future.

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