Marque of success: Bentley chief executive Adrian Hallmark at the plant in Crewe, which employs 4,000 staff
The boss of car maker Bentley is struggling to find the words to describe the company’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 like it.’
Despite a cost-of-living crisis and the impact of soaring inflation, Bentley has continued to smash records in a market for top-end luxury brands that seems recession-proof.
The manufacturer sells hand-built cars ranging from SUVs at more than £150,000 that have become the ultimate status symbol for wealthy families, to sedans kitted out in Scottish tweed that can reach speeds in excess of 200mph.
Last year, it made £335million profit from selling 14,659 cars globally. This was followed by its best-ever quarter this year.
Despite the success, industry veteran Hallmark, 59, is all too aware of how quickly things change. ‘Imagine being in the strongest boom you’ve ever been in but having to behave as if you’re in the biggest recession. That is how it feels,’ he says.
Each month this year feels like it has brought a potentially damaging new 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 need to think existentially every time we do something. The minute you relax, and you think you’ve made it, you’re dead.’
Bentley has been helped by the bravery of Ukraine’s factory workers, who continued production lines making cables for the cars as conflict raged in 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 customer base will keep growing and the wealthy will still want to get their hands on his cars. ‘We are not pessimistic about the future,’ he said from Bentley’s sleek showroom in Crewe, Cheshire.
‘We are still seeing strong signs of demand and the order book is strong. People with a lot of wealth still have a lot of wealth in a recession. There is still a lot of money around.’
It has been a formidable resurgence for Bentley since Hallmark returned to the company in 2018, having left 13 years earlier to work at Volkswagen, Saab and then Jaguar Land Rover.
On his arrival, Bentley’s annual car sales were just above 10,000 and its revenue less 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 cut our costs radically,’ he says, pointing to two recent restructuring processes that slashed jobs.
He says it has also dramatically shaved the time it takes to build cars by 24 per cent, which will improve even further to almost 40 per cent by the end of the year. Despite that, the cost of producing cars is on the rise as demand for raw materials, parts and transport surges. By the end of May, the average price of a Bentley was an eye-watering £220,000, up from £150,000 last year.
Hallmark says a further price rise of 1.5 per cent is expected this year. But the customers keep coming back. ‘We have cracked the code,’ said Hallmark. ‘You think the cars are expensive, but they are not if you are buying a high-end Mercedes-Benz or a Range Rover. The cars actually work out too cheap. They are the best Bentleys we have ever made.’ To celebrate the success, earlier this month, the company 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 remains the town’s largest employer with 4,000 workers.
Hallmark, whose family base is in Switzerland, spends his working days in Crewe, where he visits the factory floor once or twice a week. He says he does so ‘to keep the pressure on everybody a bit’ and check on any potential quality or production issues.
The main production area is a vast hall split into sections that map out the assembly line progress: seamstresses stitching leather seats, to the final electrics testing to fine-tune performance.
Bentley’s confidence recently prompted it to announce £2.5billion of investment for an electric car ‘dream factory’.
It forms part of the company’s plan to be all-electric within eight years. Its first ‘EV’ is expected to be built by 2025, with a new model every 12 months to 2030.
Hallmark wants the Government to help smooth the transition to electric cars. He is concerned about different rules and standards around the world, with countries such as 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 around the world, the ban dates span from 2030 to 2035, through to never,’ he says.
He has pressed the Government to highlight the benefits of making battery-powered vehicles here when striking trade deals in the post-Brexit era. But he is critical of a Government mandate that will see manufacturers fined if they don’t sell enough electric vehicles in the run-up to 2030.
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