For mass market automakers, 200,000 units is a small figure. For reference, Toyota sells over 400,000 Corollas in the U.S every year. For ultra-luxury brands, however, achieving 200,000 units is a monumental milestone. In the case of Bentley, it took them over a century to get there.
Granted, Bentley isn't a volume manufacturer. Nonetheless, it's great to see them reach this landmark achievement. That's thanks to a raft of all-new models that kicked off in 2003 with the Continental GT. From 1919 to 2002, Bentley shifted just 44,418 units. But after Volkswagen Auto Group strengthened their ties with the British luxury automaker, they rolled out 155,582 vehicles since 2003. One can say that production went into hyperdrive in the last 18 years.
So, what is Bentley's 200,000th model? It's the Bentayga Hybrid, a model that, in some ways, is representative of the brand's new direction. Like most automakers, they cater to the crossover segment and embrace electrification. Of course, Bentley's current success didn't happen overnight. The marque's road to 200,000 units had its share of ups and downs.
Walter Owen Bentley established the company in August 1919, and one of the first cars they made was the EXP 1 that rolled off the line in October of that year. The EXP 2 followed after that and that model survives to this day at Bentley headquarters. The EXPs were essentially previews of Bentley's first production car, the 3-Litre.
The '20s saw a lot of success for Bentley, especially in motorsports. They won Le Mans four times and set speed records at Indianapolis, the Isle of Man, and Brooklands. However, the Great Depression led to financial difficulties and they were snapped up by Rolls-Royce in 1931. World War II halted production for a little bit longer.
By the '50s, Bentley had bounced back with models such as the R-Type, Continental, and S-Series. The '60s marked the arrival of the T-Series, with some calling this model a turning point for the brand. It featured a unibody chassis, independent suspension with self-leveling, four-wheel disc brakes, and even electrically-adjustable seats. While commonplace today, it was revolutionary for Bentley at the time.
The success and popularity of the T-Series helped Bentley bring in an all-new model for the '80s, the Mulsanne. The full-sized luxury sedan later spawned several special models like the Eight, Turbo R, the two-door Continental R, and Continental T. Then, in the late '90s, the Volkswagen Auto Group acquired Bentley, practically securing its future with a new wave of models, body styles, and powertrains.
As for the future, Bentley will move to full electrification – PHEV or BEV only – by 2026, then switch the entire model range to battery electric vehicles by 2030.