The sheer work and dedication involved in creating a coachbuilt motorhome means we rarely witness the arrival of an all-new manufacturer; it takes time to build the expertise and knowledge required to form a company that can create attractive, and saleable, ’vans.
So, the arrival of Bentley Motorhomes – created by Autocruise founder and former managing design director Gordon Bentley and son Richard (pictured), along with former Autocruise chairman John Cockburn – is a rare treat. All three are returning to the industry in style, bringing the experience garnered at Autocruise before the company’s buyout (by the Swift Group, late in 2007) to a brand-new company, Bentley Motorhomes. Most exciting of all, they launched a three-model range of narrow-bodied coachbuilts at the recent International Caravan and Motorhome at the NEC.
Behind the scenes
We visited the Bentley Motorhomes factory – located directly over the road from Autocruise’s factory on an unassuming industrial estate in Mexborough, Yorkshire – shortly before the NEC show to see how plans were progressing, and to get a first look at the designs for the new ’vans.
So why had the three industry old-hands decided to return now? “I’ve been running a couple of coffee shops since the Autocruise buyout,” said sales director Richard. “Over the last couple of years we’d been asking ourselves whether we should go back into the motorhome industry. Talking to the dealers, the time is right – they’ve reported that the market is picking up. And we always enjoyed the business.”
Artists and Artisans
Key to the new low-profile Artisan range is the Renault Trafic base vehicle. Bentley’s aim is to build ’vans that ‘are something between a van conversion and a coachbuilt’, and the slim dimensions of the Trafic allow them to do just that: the ’vans are significantly narrower than is usual for coachbuilts, yet as luxuriously fitted inside. Three Artisan were offered at launch: the Cobalt (front lounge, transverse rear washroom), the Indigo (end kitchen, corner washroom and front lounge), and the Ochre (rear twin-sofa lounge). All measure around 6.1m (20’) in length, and the interior width of each is 1.98m (6’6”) – a few inches narrower than most coachbuilts. They’ll be priced between £40,000 and £44,000.
In terms of the interior, Richard said to us, prior to launch: “We’re having the electronic system built for us, rather than buying something off the shelf. The ’vans will be solar ready, and ready to take wind power – you can get a wind turbine which you can pop on top and plug into the system. There will also be an indicator inside the ’van that tells you in hours and minutes how long you’ve got left on your battery.”
As Richard showed us the full-size production line, it soon became clear that the outfit has benefited from its owners’ experience and knowledge. This applies to the factory staff, too: “We will have between 15 and 20 working here,” said Richard, “some of whom once worked for Autocruise.”
The Bentley/Cockburn ethos at Autocruise was always one that put the customer first: the trio’s emphasis on aftersales care was one which won them many fans. “We’re planning to be big on this again,” explains Richard. “In terms of warranties, we’ll offer five years against water ingress, two years on the fitted appliances, and the base vehicle has three years’ warranty.”
As for volume: “We’ll be starting on three units a week, and by January we want to be up to four a week. We don’t want to be massive; in five years’ time we’d like to be doing 10 a week.”
So it’s all systems go at Bentley, and there’s the promise of more to come: “We’re planning to launch another new range on the Renault Master/AL-KO chassis at the February NEC Show,” says Richard.