It is said Marc Bolan sang “I drive a Rolls-Royce/’cause it’s good for my voice” in T-Rex’s 1972 hit Children of the Revolution as a dig at John Lennon, suggesting the Beatle’s Rolls and large mansion stood at odds with his claiming Imagine was written as a form of Communist manifesto.
With tongue firmly in cheek, I prefer to think frontman Bolan was praising the quietness of a Rolls-Royce interior for protecting his singing voice; that shouting over the roar of an engine was simply not necessary in a Roller. Had Bolan survived the infamous car crash on that September night in 1977, I’d like to think he would be relishing the prospect of a silent, all-electric Rolls-Royce.
Such a car, called Spectre, is due to arrive in 2023 and may well see RR appeal predominantly to the children of the EV revolution.
Although not quite children, today’s average Rolls-Royce buyer is 43, and would have only just graduated from their twenties when the first truly mass-market electric cars arrived. These buyers, more switched on than previous generations to the environmental impact and societal implications caused by driving a gas-guzzling luxury limo, are shunning internal combustion for good.
Rolls-Royce chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös told me recently: “We have potential clients who placed an order already for Spectre who say they aren’t any longer buying [cars with] combustion engines. That’s a basic principle of theirs. [For them] the combustion engine is over.”
Further explaining the buying decisions of his buyers, which are younger than ever, Müller-Ötvös adds: “They have tough principles in life, like having no emissions from their car. That [previously] prevented quite a lot of younger clients from saying ‘[Rolls-Royce is a] lovely brand, I love your cars.’ [Instead they said] ‘but unfortunately there’s a 12-cylinder engine under the hood’.”
Speaking of Rolls-Royce’s decision to move into the all-electric market before other luxury car manufacturers like Bentley and Aston Martin, Müller-Ötvös continued: “I’m really glad that we decided on [Spectre] early, quite some years ago. The speed of electrification is quite remarkable.”
That speed has seen the BMW-owned company shift from an early, experimental Phantom fitted with electric motors a decade ago, to the Spectre due out in 2023. In those 10 years, Rolls has gone from a circa 100-mile range with the Phantom prototype (a 107-mile lap of Italy’s Lake Como was the suitably glamorous benchmark Rolls set for itself) to a range it describes as “adequate” for the Spectre. Educated guesses land somewhere in the 300-mile ballpark.
Speaking of that early prototype, Müller-Ötvös recalled: “Clients enjoyed driving it and they said it’s perfect, it’s Rolls-Royce in the purest firm; even more silent than a 12-cylinder engine.”
I also asked the Rolls-Royce boss about his company’s plans for autonomous driving, before quickly realizing that, of course, his customers already have that covered. It’s called a chauffeur.
Expanding on self-driving technology nonetheless, Müller-Ötvös said: “We are very relaxed on that, very relaxed. As long as the technology is not at the level where it’s really effortless and easy, our clients will not be introduced to it. You will not find Level Two [autonomy] or whatever in our cars for very good reasons. Clients enjoy driving themselves very much; they don’t [use their cars for] weekday commutes, but for weekend drives, fun drives to the opera or a restaurant.”
On that, Müller-Ötvös ends our conversation with a stat that demonstrates better than most how Rolls-Royce ownership has shifted. “When I joined 12 years ago, 80 percent of our clients were chauffeured and 20 percent were behind the wheel. This is exactly the opposite now, and that came from changing portfolios and a huge change in the age demographic. They are far younger now and they are keen to drive themselves.”