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Eco-materials, -finishes and -techniques fuse traditional craftsmanship with technology in the Bentley of the future.


A car is more than a mode of transport; it is the manifestation of the abilities and aspirations of an era. Today, we take many facets of automotive evolution for granted—cars can now comfortably travel great distances with speed and safety. Yet we are living in an era when we must all do much more with much less, treading lightly while also addressing the impact we have on others as well as ourselves.

The concept’s woodwork also has a rich backstory. Sourced locally in the UK, the “riverwood” was carefully extracted from fallen trees preserved by peat bogs for thousands of years. The result: A durable, naturally aged hardwood infused with recycled copper before being hand-polished to a rich, dark finish.

How can luxury automotive design pioneer new ways of engaging with the world? As part of Bentley’s centenary celebrations this year, the luxury brand unveiled the Bentley EXP 100 GT, a bold conceptual statement that showcases several decades of evolution of grand tourer design. Through its form and function, Bentley EXP 100 GT represents Bentley’s role as a pioneer in the new intersection of craftsmanship and technology. “This isn’t just a one-off,” says Bentley’s head of colour and trim, Maria Mulder. “These are developments that we’re moving forward with for future production cars.”

Sustainable innovation underpins the design, allowing for the responsible deployment of power. But technology also offers new ways of shaping and manufacturing a product: improving efficiency, reducing waste and creating a closed-loop process. Most important of all, sustainable innovation is about integrating both recycled and repurposed materials and traditional techniques and processes into a truly forward-looking concept. That means working with existing suppliers, preserving supply chains, craft traditions and specialist jobs—another important, often overlooked, aspect of sustainability. Bentley's colour and trim designer Cathy Bass cites the use of wool from Herdwick sheep, blended with the wool of other British rare breeds, for interior carpeting. “We liked the idea that Bentley could help farmers support their industry.”

Building on its heritage by looking forward, the Bentley EXP 100 GT demonstrates how far-reaching technology can be combined with fresh approaches to traditional methods. For example, Bentley collaborated with the century-old Scottish leather manufacturer Bridge of Weir to develop a new metallic surface finish for the soft interior leather—spraying and hand-finishing the leather to reveal its natural colour under a light copper finish; all this accomplished using a zero-waste process.

Bentley’s designers have also used a new textile developed in Italy that repurposes the bio-waste from winemaking. “The textile was adapted for automotive from its fashion roots,” says Bentley designer Susan Ross. New digital techniques enable this rich palette of materials to be harmonised—including the way the “Trapunto” embroidery (developed by Hand & Lock, the specialist embroiderer founded in 1767) continues the three-dimensional relief patterns on the door panels to give the material the same form as the specially treated wood.

Such a fully rounded approach to shaping space, form and technology draws on advances in architecture, fashion and product design. Increasingly, natural materials can be digitally shaped to exploit the best of both worlds; waste is minimised, new sustainable sources are uncovered and aesthetics, craft and natural beauty are foregrounded. “The materials are part of an entire strategy that connects with the user experience,” says Ms Bass. Bentley’s conceptual showcase demonstrates how traditional materials need not be associated with archaic forms. Above all, they show how technology will underpin a more sustainable and enduring form of luxury in the future.

Although the romance of the grand tour will never falter, desires and destinations shift and change. Luxury transportation design must incorporate social responsibility and sustainability, as well as the careful management of over-invasive technology. Bentley has imagined the car as a physical repository of memory, a store for the experience of travel, designed to delight and inspire as well as comfort, cosset and refresh. The luxury journey of the future is about the seamless integration of craft, design and technology, overseen by a discrete AI that values human sense and emotion above all else. “You will see intelligent materials in our production cars,” says Mr Leary, “exploring the ways in which information and light is communicated. If you join technologies together, you can do something beautiful.” Future journeys are destined to become part of this rolling archive, a highly crafted object embedded with memories for generations to come.

Click here to find out more about the EXP 100 GT and explore Bentley’s vision for the future.