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Bentley boss: Order book is bulging, wealthy still have pots of cash!

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Marque of success: Bentley chief executive Adrian Hallmark on the plant in Crewe, which employs 4,000 staff

The boss of automotive maker Bentley is struggling to seek out the words to explain the corporate’s recent success. As war rages in Ukraine and the world’s economies teeter on a cliff-edge, Adrian Hallmark says: ‘I’ve never seen anything prefer it.’ 

Despite a cost-of-living crisis and the impact of soaring inflation, Bentley has continued to smash records in a marketplace for top-end luxury brands that seems recession-proof. 

The manufacturer sells hand-built cars starting from SUVs at greater than £150,000 which have change into the last word status symbol for wealthy families, to sedans kitted out in Scottish tweed that may reach speeds in excess of 200mph. 

Last 12 months, it made £335million make the most of selling 14,659 cars globally. This was followed by its best-ever quarter this 12 months. 

Despite the success, industry veteran Hallmark, 59, is all too aware of how quickly things change. ‘Imagine being within the strongest boom you have ever been in but having to behave as in case you’re in the most important recession. That’s the way it feels,’ he says. 

Every month this 12 months appears like it has brought a potentially damaging recent shock, he says – the war in Ukraine, the Chinese lockdown – that leaves him concerned that demand is about to ebb away. 

But that has not happened yet. But he says unpredictable times require a more nimble approach. ‘We’d like to think existentially each time we do something. The minute you chill out, and you think that you have made it, you are dead.’ 

Bentley has been helped by the bravery of Ukraine’s factory staff, who continued production lines making cables for the cars as conflict raged within the country. It also had a healthy buffer of stock that meant it didn’t run out of essential parts as other manufacturers tried in vain to get products and parts to where they were needed. 

Despite the prospect of a looming recession, Hallmark is confident the shopper base will continue to grow and the rich will still wish to get their hands on his cars. ‘We aren’t pessimistic concerning the future,’ he said from Bentley’s sleek showroom in Crewe, Cheshire. 

‘We’re still seeing strong signs of demand and the order book is powerful. Individuals with a variety of wealth still have a variety of wealth in a recession. There continues to be a variety of money around.’ 

It has been a formidable resurgence for Bentley since Hallmark returned to the corporate in 2018, having left 13 years earlier to work at Volkswagen, Saab after which Jaguar Land Rover.

On his arrival, Bentley’s annual automotive sales were just above 10,000 and its revenue lower than £1.5billion. Hallmark, who channelled his competitive streak in his teens by racing motocross bikes, has increased sales and boosted revenue to a whopping £2.45billion. 

When asked how he turned the business around, his answer is characteristically candid. ‘We have now cut our costs radically,’ he says, pointing to 2 recent restructuring processes that slashed jobs. 

He says it has also dramatically shaved the time it takes to construct cars by 24 per cent, which can improve even further to almost 40 per cent by the tip of the 12 months. Despite that, the fee of manufacturing cars is on the rise as demand for raw materials, parts and transport surges. By the tip of May, the typical price of a Bentley was an eye-watering £220,000, up from £150,000 last 12 months. 

Hallmark says an extra price rise of 1.5 per cent is predicted this 12 months. But the purchasers keep coming back. ‘We have now cracked the code,’ said Hallmark. ‘You’re thinking that the cars are expensive, but they aren’t in case you are buying a high-end Mercedes-Benz or a Range Rover. The cars actually work out too low-cost. They’re one of the best Bentleys we’ve got ever made.’ To have fun the success, earlier this month, the corporate announced a special £2million bonus for around half the factory-floor staff. Much of the workforce are born and bred in Crewe, where Bentley’s Pyms Lane site stays the town’s largest employer with 4,000 staff. 

Hallmark, whose family base is in Switzerland, spends his working days in Crewe, where he visits the factory floor a few times per week. He says he does so ‘to maintain the pressure on everybody a bit’ and check on any potential quality or production issues. 

The principal production area is an unlimited hall split into sections that map out the assembly line progress: seamstresses stitching leather seats, to the ultimate electrics testing to fine-tune performance. 

Bentley’s confidence recently prompted it to announce £2.5billion of investment for an electrical automotive ‘dream factory’. 

It forms a part of the corporate’s plan to be all-electric inside eight years. Its first ‘EV’ is predicted to be built by 2025, with a recent model every 12 months to 2030. 

Hallmark wants the Government to assist smooth the transition to electric cars. He is anxious about different rules and standards world wide, with countries akin to China and the US potentially taking a less stringent approach to outlawing petrol engines. 

More co-operation would give certainty to manufacturers and their sizeable investments, he says. ‘Some [countries] are mandating the ban of combustion engines, others aren’t. Some are pro-electric, others aren’t. 

‘If I look world wide, the ban dates span from 2030 to 2035, through to never,’ he says. 

He has pressed the Government to focus on the advantages of constructing battery-powered vehicles here when striking trade deals within the post-Brexit era. But he’s critical of a Government mandate that can see manufacturers fined in the event that they don’t sell enough electric vehicles within the run-up to 2030.

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