The British brand's head of engineering tells us why.
In the automotive world, two great movements are currently underway - the pursuit of electrification and the pursuit of full autonomy. While more and more brands are being forced to adopt electrification strategies by changing legislation in major markets, autonomy is more of a technological feat, a "put a man on the moon" kind of technology race to see who can do it first and revolutionize personal transport. Bentley might seem an ideal candidate for such technology, being a luxury brand often associated with chauffeur-driven limousines for the wealthy elite. But Dr. Matthias Rabe, member of the board for engineering and the man tasked with piloting Bentley into the era of electrification, says autonomous driving is not something Bentley wants to pursue.
Speaking to CarBuzz, Dr. Rabe said that whether the brand is driven by electric motors or high-power W12 gasoline engines like in the Bentley Continental GT Speed, it needs to retain its core identity. "Bentley's identity is as the gentleman's driver," he tells us. "Bentley owners like driving their own vehicles and a Bentley must always be remarkable to drive." He goes on to tell us how the technology integrated into Bentley vehicles needs to supplement this identity rather than contradict it.
However, he identified two key areas where autonomy can be useful. "Traffic jams and parking are the two things no one likes to do when driving any car," he says. These are the problems he wants to solve for Bentley owners by using autonomous functionality.
"Imagine how cool it would be for you to drive to a restaurant, get out on the street, and send the car to find its own parking space." Dr. Rabe believes this is where technology can fix a problem.
Of course, a luxury brand like Bentley is driven by consumer demand. If the clientele wants a specific type of car, the brand will respond, but that's not what Bentley owners want. Rabe is adamant on this. The door is left open to autonomous technology, as Rabe highlights autonomous tech being developed within the VW Group. Audi and VW are both pursuing it, with Audi's latest Grandsphere and Skysphere concepts showcasing the technology with features like retractable steering wheels. Should the market demand autonomous tech, Bentley will be able to reach out across the group and leverage the development. But, Rabe reaffirms, "the technology will always be implemented in a way that is specific to the brand." He never wants a Bentley to feel like a Porsche or an Audi and wants to retain Bentley's driver enjoyment factor.