Bentley chief says UK failing to support electric vehicle transition

The UK is falling behind Europe, the US and China in attracting electric investment, the boss of Bentley has warned, as the luxury brand reported the highest profits in its history.

Bentley’s operating profit of €708mn, nearly double the previous year, was spurred by the rising popularity of features such as hand-stitched seats.

Adrian Hallmark, chief executive, said the UK government was doing “nothing to help us” as an established carmaker to invest into electric vehicles.

“If we were a start-up with no customers and no technology, then we could maybe get money, but as an incumbent . . . we can’t get double digit millions over five years, because the policies that the government offer don’t support incumbents converting to green technologies,” he said.

The brand, which is owned by Volkswagen, has pledged €3bn to transform itself into an EV-only nameplate by the end of the decade.

Adrian Hallmark, Bentley chief executive © Chris J Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

While Bentley receives tax breaks on some of its investments, Hallmark said that other regions — particularly the US with its Inflation Reduction Act — are leaving Britain trailing.

“I wouldn’t say the UK is unwelcoming but it’s not facilitating investment at the rate of China, the US, or continental Europe,” he said.

“We can’t wait for the government to work out what every other government has worked out, which is if you want a green auto sector, it needs priming, needs some support for the transition.”

However, he did “welcome” measures in the UK Budget this week, which included allowing companies to write off investments in equipment, saying it was a “great first step” and he looked forward to “hearing the detail”.

Bentley’s plan to sell only electric vehicles by the end of the decade has been made possible by being part of the wider Volkswagen group, which also owns Audi and Porsche.

“If you look at what we’re doing, we’re having to take every car, every piece of technology, every piece of equipment, every part of this facility, and throw it away and replace it with new technologies in order to be able to develop, build and sell electric cars,” he added.

The business has already announced the end of its 12-cylinder engine, and will launch plug-in hybrid cars until the end of the decade, when it will only sell battery models.

Bentley on Friday reported €708mn in operating profits, almost double 2022’s figure of €389mn, with car sales rising only 4 per cent during the year to 15,174, as the luxury market continued to boom in spite of gathering economic headwinds.

Revenues rose by a fifth to €3.38bn, while its return on sales margin was 20.9 per cent.

More customers are buying additional features for their models, helping the company to eke more profit out of each hand-built luxury car that it sells.

One of the most popular features is hand-stitching on the seats, which involves 286,000 stitches and several miles of thread. Bentley had assumed that one in four clients would take the feature, instead some 92 per cent of cars are made with it.

In the same way, its rotating dashboard feature that can spin between wood veneer and instrument dials is asked for by nine out of 10 customers. Both features add well over €10,000 to the price of a car.

“Customers are spending more on cars than in the past,” said Hallmark.

“This is a much more established pattern of demand, this is not crypto based, not fast money, these are well-established professionals, successful people making discerning choices and expressing themselves through actions and the personalisation that we can offer.”

Bentley’s car sales are likely to fall slightly this year, though the brand says it can still make more money than in the past, and has seen little sign of economic worries chipping away at its orders.

“Our order rate in the first two months is better than projected, and China is better than we thought,” added Hallmark.

The business has finished a turnround that included losing a quarter of its staff, and is now “self-funding”.

But Hallmark does not expect the brand to float on the stock market, saying it is stronger as part of the VW family that gives it access to technology.

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