The Bentley EXP 12 Speed 6e Concept unveiled in Geneva shows the automaker's willingness to explore electric alternatives.

Just a concept for now, the Bentley EXP 12 Speed 6e Concept signals the British maker’s readiness to explore various battery-electric alternatives.

Bentley is less than a year away from launching a plug-in hybrid version of its new Bentayga sport-utility vehicle, but Speed 6e explores the idea of going a big step beyond, with a fully electric take on its GTC convertible.

While there are currently “no plans” to bring the Speed 6e to production, Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer tells TheDetroitBureau.com that he is giving serious thought to the need to add some pure battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, to the luxury brand’s line-up – if for no other reason than to meet increasingly strict global emissions and mileage mandates.

“Demand (for battery-based models) is very low, right now,” Durheimer said, in an exclusive interview. “but, as (government) restraints are being tightened, they may become a necessity.”

The Bentayga PHEV will offer relatively limited range, likely somewhere around 30 miles or less, per charge, before switching to gasoline power. The Bentley EXP 12 Speed 6e Concept uses a fully electric driveline.

While the ultra-luxury arm of the Volkswagen Group isn’t offering specific numbers, it’s believed that the 6e uses somewhere north of 60 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion batteries, and possibly more than 100, the same range expected to be used in two other high-line VW Group BEVs: the Porsche Mission E and the Audi A9 e-tron.

Bentley's EXP 12 Speed 6e Concept's interior shows the company's willingness to take a risk.

(Bentley unveils fastest model ever. Click Here for the story.)

Range varies according to vehicle mass and performance, but Durheimer stressed that delivering long range would be critical to meeting Bentley owners’ expectations – likely in excess of 300 miles with the largest of the battery packs.

“An electric Bentley would, for example, be able to drive between London and Paris or Milan and Monaco on a single charge,” Bentley said, in a statement about the 6e.

The concept is also designed “to show that Bentley is defining electric motoring in the luxury sector, “Durheimer said in a news release on the 6e, with the appropriate technology, high quality materials and refinement levels you’d expect from a true Bentley.”

That includes such touches as a center tunnel composed of a single piece of curved glass encompassing a high-resolution OLED video display. There are also handmade, cut glass sections on the steering wheel to control vehicle functions. One of the buttons also gives the powertrain an instant performance boost. BEV proponents like to note that electric motors spin up fast, the instant torque giving them the potential to deliver extremely high levels of acceleration. The Tesla Model S with Ludicrous Mode, for example, can hit 60 mph in about 2.8 seconds.

The Bentley Bentayga was the luxury automaker's first PHEV model.

(Click Here for more about Bentley’s future portfolio plans.)

The Speed 6e Concept looks, at least initially, much like the current Bentley GTC, but there are some unique details, such as two hood scoops to help cool the car’s battery pack and motors.

Where to mount those battery packs is an issue that Bentley is exploring, Durheimer said in his interview. Traditionally, automakers shoved batteries into every possible nook and cranny, though that often meant compromising passenger and cargo space. Bentley is looking at that approach to make it easy to turn existing products into BEVs.

But it is also considering the other layout being used by Tesla, as well as VW’s Porsche and Audi brands. That means developing a unique, skateboard-like platform, with the batteries built into the floor. That would, if anything, offer the option of expanding interior space because there would be no need for a conventional engine compartment.

Bentley will offer its first plug-in hybrid driveline for the Bentayga SUV and then “roll it out into our other models, said Durheimer. It could take the same approach with a BEV driveline. Alternatively, it may develop a unique platform and body – much as another British maker, Jaguar, is doing with its i-Pace electric vehicle.

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As for timing, Durheimer said Bentley will be gauging consumer reaction to the EXP 12 Speed 6e Concept. But it will also be watching to see where government regulators go in the next few years. That may force the carmaker’s hand, even if buyers aren’t quite ready for an electrifying future.

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