Why Rolls Will Never Go Hybrid (Or Autonomous)

Most of the world’s automakers are pursuing two goals: self-driving vehicles and hybrid-electric powertrains. But Rolls-Royce is not and has never been like most automakers. Is Rolls-Royce looking to build autonomous cars? Maybe it already is. “We’re the world’s oldest autonomous brand,” says head designer Giles Taylor. Most of their clients have chauffeurs and are not looking for a self-driving machine. Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Otvös said no client has yet asked him,”Torsten, when is the autonomous Rolls-Royce coming?”

Perfect, Not Emerging, Technology


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It’s not that Rolls-Royce isn’t interested in the most advanced technology. Their vehicles have always been cutting edge, from the seamless integration of infotainment to the finest in fit and finish. But their clients don’t want the stepping stones. They want the destination. When autonomous technology is perfected and intuitive, perhaps it will appear in a Rolls-Royce. For now, the chauffeur is the perfect solution. Clients prefer the human touch anyway. The ultimate self-driving Rolls-Royce will have to deliver impeccable personality and individual service. “This super-wealthy crowd, they’re not really after gimmicks,” noted Richard Carter, Director of Global Communications. “They say to us, ‘it’s great technology, autonomy would be fantastic, but bring it to Rolls-Royce when it’s perfect.’” For the same reason, the company is staying with gas-only V12 power and not compromising with gas-electric hybridization. They don’t compromise. They are not a testing ground for new gadgets.

The Future Vision


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Rolls-Royce is looking ahead, however. In 2016 they unveiled the Vision Next 100. The autonomous, twin-electric motor concept was developed with its parent company BMW. It shined a light on what future Rolls-Royce cars could look like. A pair of 500kW motors, positioned front and back, deliver power to all four 28-inch intricately spoked wheels. The car has no driver’s seat. An analog clock is the only instrumentation. Passengers come and go through a broad rear-hinged door. They can stand up when the roof lifts and step out in grand fashion into a pool of projected red ground lighting. The company knows electric power is the future, but it will not take the half-step into hybridization. Rather, it believes the power, grace, and silence of an electric powertrain fits perfectly with Rolls-Royce luxury. Full electrification will come to Rolls-Royce when the technology is completely developed. Can you imagine a Phantom owner accepting range anxiety? The company’s relationship with BMW is critical in this development. Semi-autonomous 7 Series sedans and plug-in i3s will be the guinea pigs in this experiment.

Back to the Horse

Taylor believes the old horse-drawn carriage had elements that should carry over into future cars. The passengers and driver were separated. The owner and guests had an opulent space and were effortlessly carried around without thoughts of propulsion. “In the old days of the carriage you had ultimate privacy,” he says. “Ultimate autonomy.” Rolls-Royce will not ride the first wave into the world of autonomous hybrid cars. It will let others learn the hard lessons and suffer the setbacks. It will never deliver an unpolished, experimental product. When electric power and self-driving technology is ready, and not a model year before, then it will emerge on a Rolls-Royce. What a gloriously graceful and opulent vehicle that will be.