A vision of the future was parked outside Conrad New York Downtown one bright Saturday morning, where Bentley Motors would celebrate its 100th anniversary later that evening in the hotel’s ballroom. The vehicle’s doors were open and stretching high into the sky rather than out to the sides because in 2035, traditional doors will be so passé.
A hulking brute of a sports coupe that can currently be driven via remote control, the EXP 100 GT may only be a concept, but for Bentley, the $3-million vision on wheels symbolizes how the British luxury automaker will define modern luxury in an all-electric world.
In the future, driving will be a luxury experience, according to the brand’s designers. That’s because, in a world of autonomous vehicles, steering wheels will only be accessible to those who can afford the option.
As it celebrates its centenary, Bentley’s goal is to reassert the car as a place for creating, experiencing and capturing extraordinary human experiences and emotions.
That’s not unlike Conrad Hotels & Resorts’ focus on providing trailblazers and trendsetters incredible experiences and access to a world of connections.
For both brands, traveling is not about the destination but the journey.
DESIGNING THE FUTURE
It’s been a great year for Bentley. During a time of centenary events, the brand has introduced new versions of its Flying Spur sedan and sporty Continental, as well as given a sneak peek of its top-of-the-line Mulsanne flagship.
But there’s quite a bit of theater and spectacle in the all-electric EXP 100 GT.
The spacious cabin is designed for two but can be configured to accommodate four with additional clamshell seats that cleverly emerge from the rear. The entire glass cabin is interactive with the glass providing information along routes.
The dashboard can store champagne flutes and bottles of bubbly in slide-out cartridges. The scents and temperatures of a memorable journey can be recorded, saved and digitally replayed.
All of this is powered with hand gestures via an illuminated crystal glass interface.
“A lot of what we wanted to do here was take the very best of technology, but then humanize it,” says Bentley Head of Interior Design Brett Boydell.
Many visions of future cars embrace a living-room concept, “but in reality, people don’t want that,” Boydell says. “We’re trying to give a vision of what we felt automotive greatness was about. It’s still automotive. It’s not trying to be a living room on wheels.”
While the front of the car features a massive grille and round headlights in a nod to the Bentley Blower, the rear resembles the R-Type Continental. And it’s all informed by the history of the brand.
“The starting point was our heritage,” says John Paul Gregory, Bentley’s Head of Exterior Design. “Bentley’s history is peppered with amazing cars, so that was our first port of call.”
“Yes, the future may revolve around autonomous cars, but we’ll retain the drive experience because you will always want that option of feeling and being in control.” / Bentley Motors Designer Brett Boydell
The biggest luxury in the future, however, may be the act of driving itself.
The steering wheel is seamlessly hidden in the dashboard of the concept car until beckoned. It’s an option that few car owners may have in the years ahead unless they invest in a luxury auto brand like Bentley.
“The beauty of the drive, it’s an experience,” Boydell says. “Yes, the future may revolve around autonomous cars, but we’ll retain the drive experience because you will always want that option of feeling and being in control.”
DRIVING AS A LUXURY EXPERIENCE
How a car looks is just as important to Bentley’s designers as what passengers experience inside.
Whether it’s driving from Conrad New York Downtown, across the cobblestones of TriBeCa, toward Central Park and the new Conrad New York Midtown, or through the sun-soaked streets of Brickell before pulling up to Conrad Miami, Bentley has kept a close eye on how the sleek lines of its vehicles appear in the lighting conditions of a city’s towering skyscrapers or under the open skies of a coastal road, day or night.
“You have to make sure the car looks right in all of those environments,” says John Buckingham, advanced exterior design manager at Bentley Motors.
The interior is also meant to bring a destination to life with a massive glass canopy roof that envelops occupants and plays with the senses. The glass roof creates a more welcoming cabin and enhances the natural environment.
REFLECTING THE DESTINATION
Take a drive through the Alps, for example: “You want to be able to connect with that beautiful sunshine, atmosphere, the smell of the pine outside,” Boydell says. “It’s about creating the environment you want. Almost like going into your cozy home or going for a walk in a natural environment. We wanted to enhance and capture those moments and even replay them in the future as well.”
Conrad Hotels & Resorts has taken a similar approach to design, with its properties meant to fit in seamlessly with their neighborhoods, while also creating welcoming spaces that enable guests to better connect with their destinations.
The mirrored glass facade of Conrad Washington DC, that houses the Voltaggio Brothers’ renowned restaurant Estuary, emulates the contemporary design of the area’s architecture and world-class retailers and restaurants at CityCenterDC, across the street.
There’s probably one place where every Bentley will look at home: England, most notably in the driveway of Conrad London St. James, close to Westminster, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.
Bentley’s master craftsmen, based in Crewe, have long focused on building a brand that is quintessentially British. That means curating materials produced by local businesses.
For the EXP 100 GT, interior fabrics come from Gainsborough, based in Sudbury, Suffolk. Embroidery is handled by Hand & Lock, which has provided services to the Royal Family and Saville Row tailors for the past 250 years.
And there’s Cumbria Crystal, the choice of British Embassies and royal families, with hand-blown and hand-cut techniques that have barely changed since Roman times.
Bentley considers all of this a part of its story, and the power of its brand lies in its authenticity. “Customers want to understand the materials we are using, the skills behind how we make the product, what you don’t always see,” says Christophe Georges, president and CEO of Bentley Americas. “Real luxury is luxury with substance. Luxury which is fake will not last.”
For Bentley, mobility in the future is all about sustainability through natural materials, such as wood, leather and glass.
For example, the EXP 100 GT is an emission-free all-electric roadster. Further, Gainsborough’s cotton damask textile is renewable and biodegradable, using fewer chemical treatments.
The leather found in the EXP 100 GT is 100 percent vegan and made of the skins, seeds and stalks that remain after grapes are crushed at wineries. It’s produced by Italy’s Vegea, the only non-British material inside the Bentley concept.
Its interiors repurpose otherwise discarded materials, like wood from fallen oak trees that were preserved in bogs in England’s Fenland Basin. This wood is infused and stabilized with recycled copper.
The vehicle’s exterior paint is produced from rice husk ash, reducing landfill waste and resulting in a beautiful spectrum of autumn colors.
THE NEXT 100 YEARS
Elements of the EXP 100 GT are expected to find their way into future Bentley models, including newer iterations of the Bentayga SUV, which has been a huge hit for the automaker.
Signs of Bentley’s push toward eco-friendly driving are also starting to show in the brand’s lineup, with the Bentayga getting hybrid and electric versions soon.
No matter what Bentley’s vehicles look like in 2035, they will have one thing in common: “Our cars have never been about just getting from A to B,” Gregory says. “They’ve been about savoring and celebrating the journey. We think this concept shows how that approach can not only exist but also evolve over the next 15 years.”
No matter how you arrive, you’ll always get inspired by innovative design with Conrad Hotels & Resorts.
This story was produced in collaboration with Bentley Motors Americas.