Car Wash

Car Wash with Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark

How does a luxury automotive brand design and build an iconic sports car? Twenty years ago, Bentley showed us how with the Continental GT. Present both then and today: Adrian Hallmark. The Bentley Chairman and CEO joined us for a car wash to talk not only about the brand’s timeless design, but also to detail an entire success story.

  • Interview
    Michael Köckritz
  • Photos
    Bentley

There’s no need to be shy. “You can get up real close,” says Bentley Motors’ Adrian Hallmark. He invites us to look, feel, caress the car. A Continental GT. Hallmark was there for the original launch back in 2003, as board member in charge of marketing and sales. In 2018, after several years at various other brands, he returned to Bentley as Chairman and CEO. His career is intimately linked to this car. Again and again during our shoot, he glances at it, seemingly lost in thought, reflecting on the past. So many adventures . . .


This isn’t just any Bentley we’re washing here today. With this ramp CarWash of a Bentley Continental GT, you are also looking back on a personal success story that began twenty years ago.

When Bentley unveiled the Continental GT in 2003, I was responsible for the launch as director of marketing and sales. But the story actually goes back further, because I started in 1999, about nine months after Volkswagen had bought the company. I remember that Ferdinand Piëch had a vision to build ten thousand cars a year. So we analyzed the segment, the market, the brand, the customers and the history to convince him to scrap his original plan and to have three body styles instead of one, two engines instead of one, and to make it a W12 instead of a V8. Piëch agreed and put huge personal effort and time into working with us. He was being heavily criticized at the time for buying Bugatti and Lamborghini, but he would come to the factory every month to meet with us. And once he accepted the strategy, he fully supported it. The Continental GT was the result of four years of reimagining the brand and creating something that no one had ever created before. It was a big risk.

“The more money the customer spent, the less capable they were of driving and the less inclined they were to go on a track.”
Adrian Hallmark
But it was worth it, wasn’t it? Because the plan turned out the way you expected it to?

It’s the only time in my life where I really got to start with a clean piece of paper. At that time, we were selling 600 to 800 cars per year globally. If you look at the sales of all cars over £100,000, and that was a kind of psychological threshold at the time, £100,000 – or €160,000, $200,000 – then eighty percent of those cars were not twelve cylinders. And we wanted to not only sell 10,000 cars in a 3,500-car segment, we also wanted to do 10,000 twelve-cylinder cars in an 800-car segment.

That sounds pretty ambitious.

It was totally crazy. But we did an analysis, including lots of customer research, and we tested the concept. We asked ourselves about the competitors. Where are they? Where do we think they’re heading? We worked out a strategy with seven pillars, and the product was clearly one of them: a 200-miles-an-hour four-seater with four-wheel drive, everyday usability with luxury brand status but the price of a top-end Mercedes. A car that was faster and better than a 911 for double the price.

“The 3 Litre was a 100-miles-an-hour road car, and it was reliable. You could cruise around London in one and look cool, but you could also win Le Mans with it, which we did.”
Adrian Hallmark
Faster and better than a 911?

It depends if you put it on a track. I was with Porsche for ten years. A question I asked myself back then was how many customers actually drive a 911 on a track. And my experience was: the more money that the customer spent, the less capable they were of driving and the less inclined they were to go on a track. The typical 911 Turbo buyers were from the city. They weren’t Derek Bell, Walter Röhrl or Tom Kristensen. These people want status. And at Bentley, we offer a car that has more status than a Porsche. Even the Bentayga has the same top speed as a 911. It’s not as good on a circuit, but when you think back to 1920, the 3 Litre was a 100-miles-an-hour road car, and it was reliable. You could cruise around London in one and look cool, but you could also win Le Mans with it, which we did in 1924.

We recall.

And that’s what I mean about investigating the brand. Bentley is not some pompous, shiny, aesthetic luxury statement for the sake of luxury. It’s a brutal flying machine wrapped in an elegant exterior. This polarity, if you like, is the Bentley brand proposition. There are brands that are more elegant through to the core. There are brands that are much more brutal through to the core. But no other brand gives you the opportunity to adapt the car to the way that you want to feel. When you get in a Lamborghini – I ran Lamborghini U.K. for a few years – it doesn’t matter how young or how fit you are, you will always feel too old and too fat for the car. When you get in a Rolls-Royce, you will always feel too young and too slim. In a Bentley, you can customize the car to fit you exactly the way you want.

And that’s what the luxury clientele is looking for?

Absolutely. When we spoke to our customers and asked them what they wanted, they said: everything. And we thought: Great! Because we can do that. So we told ourselves: We need a car for four people that can go 200 miles an hour. It’s got to be able to drive in the mountains, in high-temperature deserts, in the snow. Everything.

“When we spoke to our customers and asked them what they wanted, they said: everything.”
Adrian Hallmark
Still, you have to have a more specific definition for what luxury means at Bentley ...

We measure this scientifically. I call it “brain luxury”. It’s an iterative process. If we look at the interiors of our cars, it’s the quality of the individual materials combined with the way that we treat them and develop them. We know how we want to combine them and apply them in a vehicle, and we know what architectural solutions we have to bring the best out of those materials. There’s no other manufacturer that does it like that. If you look at other luxury brands, everything looks stuck on. It’s not harmonious. It’s not Zen. If you draw a center line down the vehicle, and you look at the wood that we used there, it’s absolutely mirrored. It’s the other part of all the sheets of the veneer that we bundle and lay out in the car, and if you look in both directions, you can see the same patterns all the way through the car. That’s why every car is different. Wood is a natural material, and every piece of wood is different.

As Chairman and CEO of Bentley Motors, part of your job is to shape what customers understand by luxury. But what is luxury for you personally?

It’s funny, because I don’t see myself as living a luxury lifestyle personally. I’m actually quite simple in my taste. I love ( … )

Das gesamte Interview lesen Sie in der bald erscheinenden ramp #62.

Michael Köckritz

Michael Köckritz

Editor in Chief
As a journalist, author, artist and media maker, Michael Köckritz succeeds time and again in creating both attention-grabbing and sustainably stimulating impulses in the context of contemporary and future topics as well as lifestyle and luxury worlds. As publisher and editor-in-chief, he has realised a whole series of book and lifestyle magazine formats that have regularly won numerous national and international awards over the years. The car culture magazine ramp, the men's lifestyle magazine rampstyle and the design magazine ramp.design are published internationally and are considered style-setting.

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