Bentley makes its first electric car

The British ultra-luxury automaker Bentley unveiled an electric concept car. But will anyone want it?

Tesla has proven that people will pay over $100,000 for an electric car. But what about $300,000? Or $400,000?

That's what Bentley aims to find out with a new concept unveiled this week at the Geneva Motor Show. The Bentley EXP 12 Speed 6e is Bentley's first take on an electric car.

The car's whole purpose is to start discussions with Bentley customers about wether they might ever be interested in an electric Bentley, said Christophe Georges, Bentley's director of product and marketing.

The concept car will travel to car shows like this one and to events like the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, where extraordinarily wealthy car buyers gather. Bentley can then talk to them about what they might want in an all-electric Bentley.

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The car has a unique white paint, called pearlescent English white, created just for this car and an interior swathed in red-wine colored leather. There are copper-colored metal details throughout the car inside and out. Even the grill has copper in it.

2017 geneva motor show
Bentley's first electric car.

Bentley already plans to add plug-in hybrid vehicles to its line-up, starting with a plug-in Bentayga SUV next year. Of course, plug-in hybrid owners don't have to worry about driving range before they recharge since they can just fill up the gas tank.

Pure electric cars can't go as far and take a while to recharge. A car like the EXP 12 should have enough range to drive from Milan to Monaco, a distance of about 190 miles, according to Bentley.

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Electric motors can certainly provide the sort of strong performance people want from a Bentley, Georges said. The challenge will be to ensure customers can get the full potential of the car's performance while maintaining the sort of driving range they expect.

Designers and engineers are looking for ways to make the cars lighter without giving up all the genuine wood, leather and metal that famously fill Bentley's opulent passenger cabins. Those sorts of materials are heavy. Plastics might be lighter but people don't buy Bentleys to fiddle with plastic knobs.

"We will not compromise on luxury," Christophe said. "That is something we will never do."

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