Bentley to bring coachbuilding into the 21st century

Bentley to bring coachbuilding into the 21st century

Bentley, born of racing roots in the early 20th century, has grown into one of the premier coachbuilding operations in the world. Record sales over the past four years, delivering nearly 5,600 vehicles in the first half of 2007 alone, have caused some to question whether such volume would dilute the brand's strength, but a recent addition to the Bentley product plan may stop that line of thought dead in its tracks.

Production at the VW Group (Bentley's parent corporation) plant in Crewe, England, has hit its capacity of 10,000 units annually. Bentley plans to add to that not with numbers, but with customization, according to a report by Australian publication Cars Point. By providing more individual touches, even completely bespoke features, Bentley hopes to bring back the fine art of coachbuilding to serve its high-end clientele.

Bentley already does some of this work under its own corporate umbrella through Mulliner, which focuses on the Arnage range. The company has ruled out supplying outside coachbuilders with bare engines and chassis, as they once did, but does leave the door open to other forms of growth in that sector. The two platforms that will receive most of this individual attention will be the Continental and the Arnage. Coachbuilders like Mansory have already given the Continental some custom treatments, such as the LeMANSory Continental GTC released a few weeks ago, or the MTM Birkin Edition Continental GTC released just days after the Mansory.

High-technology will also play a role in Bentley's coachbuilding resurgence. Techniques such as Laser Metal Sintering - a method used by F1 teams to produce small, very hard parts - and composite materials may be featured in limited runs. By marrying 21st century technology to the century-old art of coachbuilding, Bentley is hoping to "grow its business without growing its business."