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Rolls-Royce customers ‘lukewarm’ on electric power

Ohm comforts: Customer resistance to an electric Rolls-Royce is grounded in range anxiety and the inconvenience of long battery recharge times, compromises that undermine the brand’s essence of ‘effortlessness’.

Electrified Rolls-Royce on backburner but tech-savvy buyers still demand gadgets

28 Nov 2014

ROLLS-ROYCE is prioritising brand values over technological trends like drivetrain electrification and weight reduction, while providing its gadget-savvy customers the modern features they demand.

For example the Phantom-based, all-electric 102EX prototype unveiled in March 2011 has been binned due to a “lukewarm” response from the hundreds of customers around the world who got behind the wheel.

According to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös, customers were turned off by compromises such as long battery recharge times and limited range, especially as many live outside city centres and highly value the “effortlessness” of Rolls-Royce ownership.

Speaking with media at an event in Queensland yesterday, Mr Müller-Ötvös said he remains “certainly convinced” of the need for an alternative drivetrain, citing plug-in hybrid and fully electric options as those under investigation.

Although no new prototypes have yet been built, he said Rolls-Royce has full access to advancements from its BMW Group parent company and its i-brand electrified product line.

Likewise, weight reduction developments from BMW ‘i’ vehicles in terms of carbon construction methods could flow through to Rolls-Royce, although Mr Müller-Ötvös said light-weighting comes with disadvantages for the brand’s key selling point of insulation and isolation from the outside world.

“For us the purpose is not in the sheer reduction of weight, for us the purpose is always to design and engineer the perfect Rolls-Royce,” he said.

“We are of course highly CO2 conscious and do everything we can to bring CO2 levels down – but first of all it is important we deliver the true Rolls-Royce experience.”

Asked whether Rolls-Royce would consider driverless technology, Mr Müller-Ötvös could imagine it being a “natural fit” for the brand, despite the fact many customers already enjoy the services of a chauffeur. “It might be a nice addition,” he said.

Again, BMW Group is “on it” in terms of driverless system development and Mr Müller-Ötvös estimated production systems to be ready “in a couple of years,” with the legal and societal hurdles harder to overcome than those of technology.

While traditional values of luxury such as hand-crafted wood and leather interiors are what Rolls-Royce is famous for, global communications director Richard Carter said an understandable misapprehension exists about the level of technology available on these cars.

Compared with other luxury vehicles in which touch-screen displays and switchgear abound, Mr Carter said Rolls-Royce tends to install technology in a more discreet way. “It’s part of the nature of the cars to not have many switches or dials, but it is all there.”

Mr Müller-Ötvös pointed out that Rolls-Royce customers are “in many cases clever and shrewd businessmen who fully understand what is around in the market and what they require and demand”.

“When you pay our prices you can expect that you will get the best and for that reason technology is very relevant for our customers.”

One example he cited was the pioneering GPS-linked transmission that debuted on the Wraith fastback last year and is now available on the Ghost Series II limousine, which ensures seamless progress by pre-selecting the best ratio for upcoming corners or inclines.

Mr Müller-Ötvös said Rolls-Royce had drifted into old-tech when it was “very much in decline” during the 1980s and believes the company would not have survived without a larger company like BMW stepping in 14 years ago.

“Rolls-Royce was subject to unbelievably expensive compliance-related issues on technology,” he explained.

“Onboard diagnostics for engines, stringent CO2 regulations all over the world, more and more expensive technology you need to build into cars – for that reason you need to leverage yourself with a bigger company as otherwise it is difficult.

“We have access to all the technology of the BMW Group, which is a big advantage. Otherwise I think this small brand would not be able to survive.

“The founding father Sir Henry Royce said, ‘take the best that exists and make it even better,’ and that is exactly how we engineer and how we build our cars.”

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