Six things we learned about Rolls-Royce's astonishing concept
RR's crazy self-driving vision of the future has landed. Here's your complete guide
It's autonomous and zero-emissions
"Those things are hygiene factors for us," says Giles Taylor, design director at Rolls-Royce. That's jargon for things that are non-optional – if you don't have them you won't be a player in the market.
Anyway, those things fit the Rolls-Royce ethos. The silent smooth power of electric motors is just what Rolls powertrains have always tried to emulate. And as has often been said, Rolls owners were among the first to have self-driving cars – the autonomous system being the chauffeur.Advertisement - Page continues below
It's got a back seat but no front seats
If the chauffeur is being replaced by electronics, something magical can happen to the cabin. The back-seat passengers get an unimpeded view forward. So the Vision car is as long as a Phantom Extended wheelbase, and has the sofa seat in roughly the same position, but there's a vast cabin area in front of their legs. The lower bulkhead wall is taken up by a vast OLED screen.
3D printing will bring coachbuilding back to RR
Giles Taylor says customisation of a Rolls will not in future be just about the colours and trim. "At the moment we do pret-a-porter, build a new model every eight years or so. The future is couture. We'll design the whole body with the client, on a modular mechanical base so they can choose the wheelbase and so on.
"We will use additive manufacturing, what people call 3D printing. After all using mallets and aluminium costs time, and making a set of press tools for one customer's car is prohibitive. You need a rapid turnaround or they'll go and buy something else. So we're actively forging links with additive manufacturing companies now."
He says they are getting to the point when full body panels could be made this way and used on a customer's car. Currently it's possible to make panels large enough, but not out of materials that are durable enough for a real car.Advertisement - Page continues below
It's modular, and could be smaller
The car envisages a modular architecture. Taylor likes the proportions of the Vision car: "It maximises the things Rolls-Royce is known for. The formality of the long bonnet isn't transgressed." So even though there's no V12 under there, "We're not denying the strength of the brand or throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
But if it's modular, could there be other forms of Rolls-Royce? "If we were asked for an MPV, the answer is no." What about a smaller car? "Yes. Of course more length gives more beautiful lines – your eyes remain on them for longer. But you could still have a decadent, authoritative, small Rolls-Royce. Some people are short but still powerful, still have a presence in a room."
It's connected but maintains your privacy
The car talks to its passengers by the synthesised voice of "Eleanor", named after the bonnet mascot. She's part of your digital life, so can suggest destinations and routes, and book a table and order the food you like. She knows your diary and your friends and colleagues. Will Rolls-Royce owners want to cede that information to a car company?
Top Gear asks Ian Robertson, BMW's sales and marketing chief. "Eleanor has your preferences and information. She's in the car. We won't necessarily have it."
There was no brief
"The brief from the board was simply, 'Do something visionary, and we'll see you in a year'." That's how Taylor describes the extraordinarily wide task he was set. Normally concept cars are done for a very specific reason, usually previewing a new car or brand direction. "A concept car has to deal with the next generation. This isn't a concept, but a vision, to tell us internally, and to communicate externally, what are the potentials for Rolls-Royce. We did research. It's about engineering scenarios, not just a styling exercise." So it has a proper Rolls-Royce experimental codename – 103EX.
Because the board didn't direct the designers, they didn't get the chance to change the result, says Ian Robertson, BMW Group board member for sales and Marketing. "When we first saw it, there was silence." But in a good way.