Bentley. Behind the scenes at the Crewe factory
Few manufacturers remained independent. Even in England, Bentley ended up under the German flag along with Volkswagen. The Crewe factory continues to produce unique vehicles. Are Bentleys still handmade? We pushed open the door of this factory.
There are mornings when you don’t stick around for breakfast, even if it’s English. A visit to the historic Bentley factory will not allow any delay. It’s almost time to smell the frosty air of the English countryside, which I see coming out of the hotel driveway, the flagship of the British car industry, the Bentley Flying Spur. The driver got out of his carriage, took my luggage, and opened the door for me. The heated seat of the English sedan gives me a welcome massage while the driver from the Bentley, cap and white gloves, takes a muffled drive. My feet sank into the thick carpet. Again, the rich are right: what good is it in the back of a Bentley. Half an hour’s journey has always seemed so short to me.
Bentley is the largest producer of W12 engines in the world.
Since Volkswagen took over in 1998, the plant has changed significantly.
A machine leaves the factory every twenty-six minutes.
Here we work with a smile and a whistle, to the rhythm of the radio.
Manual work still costs an important part, as here in the machine shop.
The Bentley plant employs 4772 employees.
A historic factory
It’s time to open your eyes. The Bentley slowed as it approached the barrier, activated by the guard with a simple nod. ‘Welcome to Crewe, the home of Bentley Motors’ reads the sign at the entrance. This time we were there, the driver explained to me that this street, Pyms Lane, used to be public and was closed to the public a few years ago. The place is typically English, with red brick walls. Built in 1938, it is also steeped in history. Until 1945, this factory produced Merlin engines for the Royal Air Force. Around 26,000 of these blocks would be produced during the Second World War, making Crewe a source of national pride. Today the factory occupies 551,000 m2 and employs 4,772 employees.
Assemble machines by whistling
It’s almost nine o’clock and the building that houses the production machines is quietly waking up. As I entered the assembly plant, I let an employee pass by, dressed in light gray overalls: ” A great day for assembling machines! “he separates us. Anyone who visits a car factory will notice two things. Here everyone has a smile and above all, it seems like we are taking our time. The employees are far from twiddling their thumbs, but the speed is different: ” Here we don’t work at night. The factory opens at 9 am and closes at 5:15 pm We turn out an engine every twenty-six minutes, but in reality, assembling a Bentley engine takes several hours. Assembling the motor takes all day.” explained the factory manager.
Since Volkswagen took over in 1998, everything has changed here. The facilities are state-of-the-art, but the tradition is still there. Installed on a small workbench, a man with a generous mustache, armed with a simple screwdriver, continues the final adjustments to the W12 house, while whistling. Here, every manufacturing step is accompanied by the sound of the team’s radio. The machine left on a small trolley, our friend picked up his still steaming cup of tea, and watched it leave. No doubt, we are in England. The most delicate operation is the following, the marriage of the engine and the gearbox.
Here too, this operation will be performed by hand. Four operators crowd around the block. One front, one back and one on each side. In just a few seconds, the two behemoths became one. Bentley is the largest producer of W12 engines in the world. But the brand, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2030, plans to switch to all-electric, with another building under construction.
The school of perfection
Inside the main assembly hall, two lines are in operation, one for the Bentayga and one for the Continental and Flying Spur models. This is where all the elements of the vehicle come together. An assembly that begins with a type of suspended trolley. A Bentayga entered the hall, with no doors or any interior items. We start by wiring the vehicle, and installing the dashboard. An operation performed by a robot, but verified by humans. The margin of tolerance? “0.7mm” the factory’s communication manager answered me. Here, technology always complements craftsmanship. The exterior appearance of this massive red brick building contrasts sharply with the clinical and technological environment of the interior.
Millions of combinations
The engine-box block has finally found its place in the body of the Bentayga. It’s time to drop the wheels, connect everything that needs to be connected, and install the inimitable Bentley grille on the front end. Every chassis that moves through the assembly line has a barcode. Necessary, because there are several million combinations of paint colors, interior colors or options, for each model. By scanning the barcode at each stage, each employee knows exactly what to put in the car. This is what makes every Bentley unique. The way the cars are built is also unique, as evidenced by the windshield step. If an ultra-sophisticated robot comes to put the seal on the glazing, like in any factory, two technicians will come to glue the windshield to the car.
These two guys have been gluing windshields together for 30 years. They do it better than any robot. As long as they are here, no robot will do their job.
On the assembly line, the 702 employees of the final assembly shop carry more than one robot. “ They are the soul of Bentley said our guide.
The passion for quality
A requirement that does not prevent control. Each vehicle suffers between 500 and 650 checkpoints. We were taken to the very last building, at the end of the line. Here, some brand models are patiently waiting for its validation. A Bentley boy takes the car and takes it to a bridge and then to a rolling test bench to check every mechanical aspect of the car. This is after the vehicle will undergo a final visual check before leaving the factory.
The final test consisted of a long tunnel of light, lit by dozens of bright neon lights. As in any car factory, this step consists of checking the appearance of bodywork or paint defects. Mary, a smiling 50-year-old, takes charge, red marker in hand, identifying and circling each defect noted. “ I play the lottery every week so I can buy one. If I win, I’ll get pink! he confessed to me. ” I don’t like pink, but that way everyone can see that I won “. The mood was light, but Mary missed nothing.
After a furtive glance at the right rear wing of a Flying Spur, the queen of quality circles an area of several square centimeters with a reproving marker. To my astonishment, Mary insisted: I can’t miss it. After five good minutes of looking at the rear end from all angles, I had to face the facts. Mary saw in a split second a flaw that I could not see. It certainly makes the difference between a Bentley and another car.