REPORT BACK ON MEETING Friday February 19 2016
In the misty morning at Chapel Golf Club, are parked a pair of sleek, magnificent beasts – Bentley cars from Crewe, one a Continental GTV8s 4.0 litre Coupé, the other a Bentley Mulsanne 6.75 Litre, costing a cool £400,000 between them. Golfers circle the cars, full of admiration and longing.
Sally Hepton, Director of Government Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility, was the speaker at High Peak Business Club’s February breakfast. As usual it proved to be a fascinating meeting.
Last year British car manufacturers produced a record 1.5 million cars. Bentley, whose new SUV 4×4 Bentayga (above) was launched in November, was no slouch; with £1.6bn of sales, its beautifully crafted cars go to 60 different countries, with the USA and China dominant. The “March of the Makers,” indeed.
When Vickers sold Rolls-Bentley in 1998, Rolls-Royce went to BMW and production moved south to Goodwood. Bentley was bought by Volkswagen and seems to have got the better deal. Then, Crewe produced 1,000 cars a year and (though Sally didn’t say so) might well have disappeared. Instead, VW pumped in a cool billion; now they have 4 models with sales topping 10,000 a year. Worldwide, demand for luxury cars is about 55,000 a year, so Bentley is a big player in a highly competitive global market.
“We make luxury performance cars,” she said. The engines say it all: we’re talking the W12, the big beast made in Crewe. “We’re working hard to drive down emissions,” said Sally. At the time it was put in, the Pyms Lane factory had the largest solar panel installation in the UK. Who knows, a future Bentley might be a plug-in hybrid car.
With nearly 4,000 employees, it takes 400 hours to build a Bentley – 17 times longer than a VW Golf. Every W12 engine is signed by the maker. 450 people work in the leather section alone, with each car requiring up to 18 hides. “We make sure they come from areas where there are no mosquitoes, no barbed wire,” Sally said, “and they’ll all boys. No stretch marks either.”
Bentley are now the biggest employers in Crewe, which presents challenges in itself. Wood and leather working are not local skills, while engineering skills are in desperately short supply. They found that the existing apprenticeship framework wasn’t delivering, so they set up their own facility at the South Cheshire College in September 2014. But from September this year they’re engaged in something much more ambitious, alongside employers such as Bosch, Siemens, GE, OSL Rail (involved with HS2) and Chevron: a University Technical College for 14-18 year olds interested in the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, maths. It’ll be a state-funded independent school in Crewe town centre, rather on the lines of the German technical high schools which fuel Germany’s engineering strength. So far 126 young people have signed up for September 2016. This will make a huge difference not only for those manufacturers, but their supply chain too; in future, as Crewe (due to be a hub for HS2) recovers its lost glory, it’ll be due to this kind of imaginative educational leap. Derbyshire, please note.
Back to the cars… only 10% of the Pyms Lane output is sold in Britain, but owners are getting younger. You’re encouraged to visit the factory and see your own car being made. Recently Bentley got back into motor racing with GT3 sports cars, winning races in their first year. A short run of 300 GT3R road cars were produced; Autocar tells me that this vehicle, weighing over 2 tonnes, will do 0-60 in 3.7 secs, 0-100 in 8.2 secs and a standing quarter mile in 12 secs. But don’t think of buying one, as “They sold like hot cakes,” said Sally.
In the car park, HPBC members have a little try out. The cars purr like kittens and are surprisingly quiet, and easy to drive. Successful business people, I hint, should reward themselves with more than fancy holidays; if you’re on the road a lot, why not enjoy the experience? And you could start with a 10 yr old Flying Spur with only 40,000 on the clock for under £30,000. Well, we can all dream…