Bentley is to end production of its flagship 12-cylinder engine in its shift to electrification, becoming the first of the luxury car brands to call time on technology considered the pinnacle of engineering in the combustion era.
The 12-cylinder engine, much bigger than the standard three or four in most petrol cars and larger than V8 engines common in high-performance cars, gave Bentley’s models their signature effortless power.
The last batch of the current engine, first released in 2003 with more than 100,000 manufactured, will roll off the production line in April 2024, underlining the gathering pace in the switch to electric.
Bentley’s rivals including Rolls-Royce and Ferrari are still planning to offer the technology for several years while planning to roll out electric models, as the top end of the industry charts a course towards decarbonisation.
Luxury car brands have been generally slower to introduce battery models as customers can often afford several cars and do not want to compromise on range.
Yet Bentley is aiming to take the lead among established luxury names for offering more environmentally friendly alternatives, even though current well-heeled customers are still able to afford models using larger engines.
“The time has come to retire this now iconic power-train as we take strides towards electrification,” said Bentley chief executive Adrian Hallmark.
The shift towards electrification “means making changes to every area of Bentley Motors”, he added.
Although it is preparing to sell its first electric model later this year, Rolls-Royce offers only 12-cylinder petrol engines in its line-up.
Ferrari has some smaller V8 and V6 engines but still fits the larger engine into flagship models such as the Purosangue.
Bentley said it will make its first battery electric model in 2026, a year after promised battery models from Ferrari and Aston Martin. Rolls-Royce has one electric model, the Spectre, which is due to be delivered late this year.
Bentley is planning to electrify its entire line-up by the start of the next decade, with the aim of reducing its average emissions to zero.
About 30 staff that hand-build and test the W12 engine, which is named after its shape, will be retrained and redeployed across the business.
The British group plans a limited run of Batur models, which will house the engine. It will also offer a small number of current models with the engine before the phase-out date as well.
The brand, which is owned by Volkswagen, will still sell cars with V8 and V6 engines and offer hybrid models on all future cars from next year.
Bentley said demand for hybrid versions of its Bentayga and Flying Spur models is “already exceeding expectations”.
It added that constant improvements to the W12 meant that power is 37 per cent higher than two decades ago, while emissions are 25 per cent lower.