By on June 5, 2020

Bentley Motors plans to quash roughly a quarter of its workforce. Not long ago, following a profitable 2019, CEO Adrian Hallmark said that the brand was on track to have a stellar 2020.

Alas, it was not to be.

The coronavirus lockdowns left Bentley losing £88 million ($111 million USD) for each month of lost production and sales, throwing the whole year out of whack. Much like the mucus man writing the sentence you’re reading now, it would seem high-end British nameplates (despite Bentley ownership by Volkswagen Group) aren’t in the best health. Aston Martin recently announced the cutting of 500 positions, while McLaren had to axe 1,200 jobs in May. 

“Losing colleagues is not something we are treating lightly but this is a necessary step that we have to take to safeguard the jobs of the vast majority who will remain,” Hallmark said in a statement on Friday. Five months earlier, he told Automotive News that — given the brand’s trajectory in 2019 — “it would be hard not to have a record year” in 2020.

The plan is to reduce the luxury brand’s ranks by 1,000 individuals. Voluntary layoffs are the way Bentley would like to go, but its CEO acknowledged that there might be a need to just fire staff to hit the desired number.

The company resumed production in the middle of May, giving it more time to recoup production losses than other brands. But the long build times of its expensive cars and the way in which they’re ordered (customized to the max) means inventory stockpiles don’t really exist at Bentley, and wouldn’t be all that helpful anyway. Hallmark said the business has already missed out on 30 percent of the cars it could have sold this year, with no way to make up for the lost revenue that doesn’t include streamlining the payroll.

It has also rid itself of several hundred contractors who aren’t officially Bentley employees but still draw a paycheck from its accounting department, making the cuts slightly deeper than they appear at first blush. It also has a large percentage of its staff working from home, with an additional 500 still furloughed from earlier this year.

Hallmark has said there is basically no way for Bentley to make up for lost time. Even if sales shoot through the roof for the rest of the year (doubtful), health guidelines have left its facility in Crewe, England, operating at half its normal strength — and likely contributed to its desire to cut staff. Not much reason to bother keeping employees on the payroll when you can’t put them to work, anyway.

Lastly, and perhaps most predictably, the brand said it will probably have to push back its electric vehicle program by a full year. Considering parent company Volkswagen’s trouble with EVs and their associated software, this is hardly surprising.

“The ambition to have the first BEV by 2025 does not change but with the COVID-19 crisis there could be some slippage,” Hallmark said. “The short-term shock does not help because we planned to generate more cash to be able to pre-invest in the next generation [of models].”

While we cannot guarantee this is the case with any single automaker, we’re left with the impression that the coronavirus has proven an effective smokescreen for automakers wanting to walk back costly development programs. We won’t miss the ones that aimed to replace humans with robot drivers, but EVs are being sacrificed at a time when they finally seemed to be making good headway. Battery costs have come down, ranges have gone up, and mainstream manufacturers are trying their hand at building non-niche electrics — with mixed results. Still, EVs don’t yet sell in large numbers, making them a perfect candidate for the industry to collectively forget about when the time comes to cut costs.

Bentley says we can probably still expect to see its battery electric vehicle in 2026.


[Image: Media_works/Shutterstock]


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