English-based car maker gives green light for technology-laden rear seat command post.
Bentley plans to mix business with pleasure by adding a mobile office option to its flagship Mulsanne limousine that will enable its high-rolling customers to stay in charge even when they're on the move.
It unveiled the "executive interior concept" at the recent Frankfurt motor show and this week confirmed it will put it into production as an option as soon as it completes testing the system.
It can be specified to include numerous components such as a roof-mounted 16-inch LED central video screen, plus two electric fold-out tables in the seat backs that each house an Apple iPad with its own Bluetooth-connected keyboard.
The Mulsanne already comes with two DVD screens in the rear of the front-seat headrests that can also be incorporated into the system, creating a network of up to five separate screens.
Each component is connected to an Apple Mini Mac hub in the boot, which can be controlled by an iPhone or iPod, or from either of the installed iPads.
The concept can also include a refrigerated compartment between the rear seats that's perfect for keeping the Verve Cliquot chilled, and has its own wireless hotspot to ensure the chauffeur-driven owner can continue to do business wherever they are.
"I spend a lot of time in the back of cars and I usually need to spend every minute getting myself up to speed for my next meeting," says Bentley chief executive Wolfgang Durheimer. "This is why we think this will be very popular with some of our customers."
Bentley is determined that its customers won't suffer from the time lag that is often associated with slow product development cycles, so the system will not be wired into the car's sophisticated electronics. Rather, it will stand alone as an external yet integrated device that can be fully reprogrammed at any time to embrace developments in technology.
So, has Bentley formed a strategic alliance with Apple for the supply of its technology for the Mulsanne executive interior concept? Not so, says Bentley platform manager Marcus Abbott.
"We just went with Apple because we think it works well for us as a multimedia entertanment system," he says. "There's no real reason why we couldn't do a PC-based version down the track."
Constant connectivity doesn't come cheap, though. Mr Durheimer estimates the entire system - including all the Apple gear plus the fridge, mood lighting and a special pen - will set customers back around 100,000 euros ($138,000). However, customers will be able to pick and choose various components to suit their own needs and budget.
Bentley is also considering stretching the Mulsanne range to add a long-wheelbase model. Durheimer says he has had requests from several "royal houses" for a stretched version of the prestigious Mulsanne and the company was investigating the option.
He also confirmed that Bentley is likely to bring back a convertible version of the Mulsanne - previous versions were known as the Azure and the Brooklands - but added that due to the relatively small size of the England-based, German-owned company, it was unlikely it would be discussed at board level until early next year.