Rolls-Royce SUV Still Far From Production

  • Rolls-Royce Logo Picture

    Rolls-Royce Logo Picture

    Rolls-Royce hasn't given up on SUVs, but better ideas for brand expansion may be in store. | September 23, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • Rolls-Royce designers are sketching potential SUVs for BMW's premier brand.
  • But the British ultra-luxury carmaker may have better success with a new series of coachbuilt, limited-edition models, Edmunds has learned.
  • The bespoke models might feature custom carbon-fiber bodywork, thanks to development breakthroughs provided by BMW's new i-Series range.

GOODWOOD, EnglandRolls-Royce designers are sketching potential SUVs for BMW's premier brand, but the British ultra-luxury carmaker may have better success with a new series of coachbuilt, limited-edition models with custom carbon-fiber bodywork, insiders tell Edmunds.

The company is far from convinced that a Rolls SUV is the right way to go. The difficulty of blending the brand's upright, temple-fa├žade grille with the height of an SUV is one issue; the fact that a Rolls-Royce is neither "sports" nor "utility" another.

But the company can see the theoretical potential of such a vehicle, which is why its designers are producing sketches. Have they produced anything promising? "Not yet," says senior engineer Nils Griffel.

Rolls-Royce is considering other ways to broaden its model range, too.

The automaker is interested in the progress that parent BMW has made with reducing the cost of carbon fiber for its new i-Series electric and hybrid models, and thinks this development may offer it the chance to create low-volume, limited-edition models with modified bodywork.

In the past, many Rolls-Royces were bodied by outside coachbuilders who were supplied with a rolling chassis and a drivetrain to clothe. Griffel does not envisage going that far, because homologation rules would involve the prohibitively costly crash-testing of each variation.

Instead, the car would retain its inner structure, with strategic reshapings of its outer panels in carbon fiber. Although composite materials are expensive, they are much cheaper to tool than steel or aluminum panels.

Low-volume, limited-edition models like this could be an alternative way for Rolls to expand its exclusive high-end appeal without venturing into the potentially less tasteful world of high-end SUVs. More than 90 percent of the cars Rolls-Royce currently sells have some kind of bespoke features on them, suggesting that the demand for even greater exclusivity is there.

Edmunds says: A Rolls-Royce SUV may well appeal to some billionaires, but it could also shift the marque's image in less subtle directions. A return to coachbuilt, limited-edition cars might do more to burnish the brand's reputation.

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