Bentley’s Biofuel Bargain
Leaving no doubt that the green car movement is reaching into the furthest recesses of the automobile industry, Bentley Motors—the British-based ultra-luxury brand—has adopted a pro-biofuels policy. The carmaker, owned by Volkswagen, produces some of the world’s most expensive automobiles, but that doesn’t exempt the company from moving in an eco-friendly direction.
According to “Bentley and the Future of Biofuels,” a white paper issued by Bentley in December 2008, “engineering work is already underway and is on target to deliver
flexfuel vehicles across our fleet, with the first variant available in 2009.” The company is committed to producing “a full range bioethanol compatible vehicles before 2012.”
Bentley currently holds the dubious distinction of producing the least efficient vehicle in three different segments:
- The 12-cylinder 6.0-liter Bentley Continental GTC is EPA’s lowest rated subcompact with 10 mpg in the city and 17 on the highway.
- The 12-cylinder 6.7-liter Bentley Azure, rated at 9 mpg city and 15 mpg highway, is the least efficient compact car.
- The biggest gas-guzzler in EPA’s large car segment, the 8-cylinder 6.7-liter Bentley Arnage RL is also rated 9 mpg in the city and 15 mpg on the highway.
Bentley’s efficiency levels and environmental efforts are not going to make a significant impact on the world’s energy crisis one way or the other. Bentley and other manufacturers of luxury cars don’t produce many vehicles. Nonetheless, Bentley is under pressure to take steps toward greener motoring—or face an anti-environment stigma. “It’s about corporate responsibility,” Brian Gush, Bentley’s chief engineer and head of powertrain, told Hybridcars.com. “This is something we must do. Our buyers demand it. The industry demands it. And it’s the right thing.”
And, of course, governments demand it. Laws around the world, especially in Europe and the US are imposing stricter standards on emissions. Many of these new directives will intensify in the next three years. Carmakers that don’t meet minimum levels of fuel economy are charged fines—which are usually passed on to consumers in the form of higher sticker prices.
Bentley considered many alternative auto technologies—including hybrids, pure electric, hydrogen, and diesel—before deciding on biofuels. “We wanted to meet the needs of both sides of the Atlantic,” Gush explained. “The US is more keyed–in on reducing its oil dependency, while Europe is more aimed at reducing CO2 emissions. Biofuels address both of these concerns in the most comprehensive way, we believe.” Most auto companies have turned away from biofuels and are looking to various forms of electrification as a primary green strategy.
Bentley built its biofuel strategy with a British government study, known as the Gallagher report, as its cornerstone. The report concludes that there is a future for a sustainable biofuel industry and asserts that biofuels can be produced in a method that is both ethically and ecologically sound. Although the biofuel industry has faced mounting criticism, the Gallagher report suggests that biofuel production causes less disruption to the world’s food chain than fluctuating oil prices.
With its biofuels initiative, Bentley promises to cut CO2 emissions by at least 15 percent across the entire vehicle line by 2012, as well as offer a new powertrain that improves fuel economy by 40 percent. “Without any detriment to performance,” said Gush. Ironically, adapting vehicles to allow an 85-percent blend of ethanol is also one of the least expensive measures that the luxury carmaker can take to reduce the use of petroleum and carbon emissions. Unfortunately, E85 ethanol is not widely available to US consumers.