Rather than wait for our spy photographers to snap it out on public roads, Rolls-Royce has released a trio of pictures of a test mule for its forthcoming SUV. Confirmed for production in mid-February this year, the SUV – know internally as Project Cullinan - is expected to enter production in 2017.
In an official release, Rolls-Royce confirmed that “the mule rides on the first iteration of an all-new suspension that will assist Rolls-Royce engineers in developing a final all-wheel drive system.” The challenge Rolls Royce has set itself is to build a car “that delivers Rolls-Royce’s hallmark “magic-carpet” ride not only on the road, but off-road too.”
From here, Rolls will test the suspension “across all types of international road surface specification at test facilities, as well as on public roads. Test surfaces will include; Belgian Pavé, cobblestones, corrugated concrete, noise development and measurement surfaces, resonance road, and acceleration bumps.”
Although the final car will sit on a new all-aluminium architecture, this test mule is based on a shortened Phantom Series II body – telling us something about the SUV’s basic dimensions. It’s a fair assumption that it will feature a wheelbase shorter than the 3,570mm you get with a Phantom, but the extra clearance between the wheels and wheel arches shows it will be a much higher-riding car.
And purists needn’t worry about the enormous rear spoiler either. It’s believed the wing is there to help mimic the extra drag created by the SUV’s taller, more slab-sided design.
Rolls-Royce has confirmed that it will bring an SUV into full production to battle with the Bentley Bentayga. An open letter from the Chairman, Peter Schwarzenbauer, and the CEO, Torsten Muller-Otvos, states “we will take our time in developing and perfecting this new concept in luxury,” but a launch date in 2017 seems likely, after the introduction of the new Wraith Drophead and before the flagship Phantom is replaced.
The letter calls this a “seminal moment in Rolls-Royce’s 111-year journey” and describes the new model a “A high-bodied car, with an all-new aluminium architecture.” It also refers to it as “a car that offers the luxury of a Rolls-Royce in a vehicle that can cross any terrain” and “A car that appropriately reflects Rolls-Royce’s brand promise of effortless luxury.”
The driving force behind the car has been customer demand, along with a thirst to innovate, Rolls claims. Just a month ago we spoke with Mueller-Oetvoes who told us: “You need to move the brand from time to time, you need to go with the flow. We might even see in a few years that the classical sedan segments are shrinking due to the fact that SUV type vehicles are growing. So if you don’t change your product portfolio to something that is up to date, then at some point in time you might even die.”
In the letter reference is made to Charles Rolls and Sir Henry Royce’s success in “rigorous overland adventures such as the Scottish Reliability Trials, the London to Edinburgh event and the Alpine Trials,” suggesting the idea of an SUV isn’t completely alien to the brand. “This segment is interesting because it allows transport for your family; even the dog can accompany you. It is a car for all occasions; you can pull up at the opera house or in the yacht harbour, and there’s clearly a demand coming from the market,” Mueller-Oetvoes said back in January.
Details about the car’s mechanicals are still under wraps, but expect the new aluminium spaceframe to be shared with the next-generation Phantom and other future models, along with a retuned V12 engine and a new plug-in hybrid powertrain. Four-wheel drive will come as standard, of course, along with an luxuriously appointed interior and a pricing structure that’s some way north of the Bentley Bentayga – staring from at least £250,000.
Although Rolls is notoriously coy when it comes to talking about volume, with sales of 4,063 cars in 2014 – its fifth consecutive record year and 12 per cent up on 2013 – its bank balance is already in rude health. The introduction of this SUV will drive global sale even higher by introducing the brand to a whole new audience.
Speaking exclusively to Auto Express earlier this year, Torsten Muller-Otvos, CEO of Rolls-Royce explained that despite the obvious demand for an SUV he is cautious about harming a brand he has worked hard to make so strong: “On the other side we need to watch that it keeps the promises of what Rolls-Royce really stands for – that’s magic carpet ride, full luxury, no compromises in comfort,” he explained.
“You need to move the brand from time to time, you need to go with the flow. We might even see in a few years that the classical sedan segments are shrinking due to the fact that SUV type vehicles are growing. So if you don’t change your product portfolio to something that is up to date, then at some point in time you might even die.”
Rolls-Royce has more than just an SUV in the pipeline, though: a Drophead Coupe version of the Wraith will arrive in 2016 and, eventually, the brand will introduce a replacement for the flagship Phantom, now in its thirteenth model year.
“Sure, there will be a replacement for the Phantom, but we are not rushing this car because it is a timeless icon and it is still popular in the market. Rest assured that we are living with Henry Royce’s ethos that we should strive for perfection. There is always something you can do better, and it will be an even better car,” Muller-Otvos explained.
“I think we will stick with the aluminium spaceframe technology for now, but it is possible that we will also look into using carbon in certain areas of the car when the time comes. Why not?”
And lightweight materials aren’t the only forward thinking technology on Muller-Otvos’ radar: “BMW is very successful in electric cars and is doing lots of research in that area that might bring solutions long-term into the Rolls-Royce brand. Personally, I think there is no demand yet from customers, but we will probably be forced from the legal side to alternative powertrains. And for that reason, a plug-in hybrid could be good. Why not? Because it allows you to drive for quite a mileage in a full-electric mode in city centres.”
As for the long-term volume targets for Rolls-Royce, there simply aren’t any: “This market segment is not about volume," added Muller-Otvos. "We are custodians of an 111-year-old brand and we are watching that carefully. There is a clear strategy with BMW that we aren’t offering any cars below Ghost price wise and that we stick with high-end exclusivity, so we are already limiting ourselves to a certain amount of cars. Is there growth potential beyond 4,000 units? I would say yes there is, but I am fully happy with where we are today.”
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