Designers For Bentley And Maserati Discuss The Inspiration Behind A Pair Of Ultra-Luxury SUVs

From the Jaguar I-Pace to the Lexus UX, SUVs dominated the Geneva International Motor Show this month. I sat down with two designers – Philippe Starck, the multi-faceted French impresario who created the electric charging port for Bentley’s first-ever battery-powered variant, the Bentayga plug-in hybrid, and Klaus Busse, the FCA design boss who oversaw the Maserati Levante – to learn about the inspiration behind a pair of ultra-luxury off-roadsters generating some buzz.

Debuting at the Geneva show, the Bentley Bentayga plug-in hybrid can travel 31 miles on battery power before reverting to its turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine.

How do you complement the design aesthetic of a Bentley with an electric charging port?

You know, ecology is not a choice. I’m always surprised when journalists ask me, ‘What do you think about ecology?’ We don’t have to think about it; we just have to do it, everywhere, in every minute. The [plug-in] Bentayga is the ultimate mix of the best of two worlds – the tradition of perfect work by hand and the future of ecology and electricity. Some people think ecology is a punishment, and it is not. It can be a pleasure.

What are your favorite elements in the Bentayga plug-in hybrid?

I love everything that’s a high level of quality. I am not a car aficionado. I don’t drive a car. I drive motorcycles, I ride an electric bicycle, I fly a plane, but I don’t use a car. My wife has had a Bentley for 20 years. But for me, I love the spirit of Bentley and when people buy it for the right reason – for the quality. I love the Bentayga because it’s a very comfortable car. It’s an SUV that can go everywhere, and for me, a car has to go everywhere.

Klaus Busse, head of design at Fiat Chrysler, led the development of Maserati’s first-ever SUV, the Levante. Launched in 2016, the nameplate is now the Italian brand’s bestseller.

Where did you look for design inspiration for Maserati’s first SUV? 

You will not see me finding any inspiration at the Geneva Auto Show. That doesn’t mean that my colleagues and all of the other brands don’t do an amazing job. It’s quite the opposite – they do. But how can I take inspiration from something that someone did at least three or four years ago to inspire me for something I want to launch in another three years? That’s a six-year gap. So I have to refuse to look for inspiration at Geneva and instead gauge where we are as an industry, which trends worked and which ones didn’t.

Where do you like to find inspiration then?

I find more inspiration sitting at Piazza San Carlo having espresso and seeing people walk by. I love absorbing the Italian culture, because that’s much more inspiration for what we do. When you see an Italian dandy walking by and you think, ‘Your pants are too short, dude,’ and you would only focus on the short pants, but when you look at the overall statement, you think, ‘Oh, this is actually pretty cool.’ With Italian design, if you look at elements in isolation, it can be strange, but when you look at the overall picture, you realize it’s an amazing work of art.