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You'll Be Plugging In Your Bentley by 2017

SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- If you've been searching for a way to do your part in reducing carbon emissions but haven't been able to settle for the spare comfort of a Prius, Bentley may have the answer.

The ultra luxury carmaker recently unveiled its vision for the future with the debut of a Bentley hybrid concept car, making Bentley the first prestige luxury car manufacturer to offer such technology.

"I think it's important for us to demonstrate our commitment to the future and to sustainability. It's a very important statement for us," says Bentley's director of product management, Paul Jones, during a telephone interview from the company's headquarters in England.

Bentley showed off its new hybrid technology in a Mulsanne concept car at the Beijing International Automotive Show in late April.

The Bentley hybrid technology will be available to the public in 2017 in the company's first-ever SUV offering. Bentley has not revealed the price for its first hybrid plug-in vehicle.

Some of the highlights of the Bentley hybrid include it offering a 25% increase in power yet a 70% decrease in emissions. The vehicle will have a driving range of at least 50 kilometers (or 31 miles) on electric power alone.

"This vehicle reinforces what we stated a number of years ago about our strategy to have an ongoing reduction in our emissions," Jones says. "In 2012 we launched a V8 that led to a 40% reduction in our emissions. Now this brings us to a 70% reduction. So it's really the next chapter in our drive for our vehicles to become more efficient."

It can certainly ease guilt among drivers who want a Bentley but feel bad driving a brand that has appeared on lists of Worst Cars for the Environment. The plug-in hybrid will be environmentally efficient while still offering the plush cocoon of leathers, real wood and other pricey, luxe details the public has come to expect inside a Bentley -- and the performance as well.

"The car will be a true Bentley in every way ... there will be no compromises on that front. It will have all the luxury trimmings and refinements you expect with a Bentley," Jones says.

Copper is being used as an exterior and interior styling element to highlight the car's electrical veins, from accents to the radiator grille and headlamps to copper cross stitching throughout the car's leather cabin. 

The SUV is just the first step in Bentley's march toward being a more eco-conscious car manufacture. The company plans to offer a hybrid option in 90% of its vehicles by 2020.

Bengt Halvorsen, deputy editor of High Gear Media, a company that specializes in providing information for new car shoppers, says the vehicles in the Bentley lineup will not be the only cars in the Volkswagen-owned portfolio using the new hybrid technology.

"I recently interviewed Bentley's head of research and development and he confirmed that this plug-in hybrid technology is going to be shared with all of the brands in the Volkswagen group," Halvorson says. "The premium brands are going to get it first. But it will also eventually be in the Porsche Cayenne -- the next generation of that vehicle will get a version. The next generation of the Audi A7 will get a version of this hybrid system. I can eventually imagine VW Touareg getting it. But they are being smart with it. They are rolling out better technology first for their most expensive brand in the portfolio so that Bentley will get a complete exclusive for the first year or year and a half."

Halvorson says the hybrid is a bold and likely a smart move for Bentley in terms of increasing sales and establishing it as a leader among its peers.

"Among the prestige luxury brands, Bentley is the first one to step out. It says something. They are leveraging the technology of the VW group behind the scenes," Halvorson continues. "It says something about Bentley's strategy. It says they are pushing themselves out and realizing that they can diversify their lineup and still maintain that perception of exclusivity."

Halvorson says Bentley sells between 2,000 and 3,000 vehicles each year in the United States. The talk behind the scenes and among Bentley executives has the company targeting much higher numbers with their new vehicle release -- up to 10,000 vehicles per year in the states.

"If it's anything like Cayenne was to Porsche, it could triple their annual sales," Halvorson says. "For the first year or two, there is going to be some pent-up demand."

Jones confirms a sharing of technology among the Volkswagen portfolio, good news for drivers who favor the Audi or Porsche marques.

"One of the great advantages we have being part of the VW group is we have access to technology to do things that normally a small company like Bentley wouldn't be able to do," Jones says.

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