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Uhm... Rolls Royce to Develop Plug-in Hybrid

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On: Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 11:13AM | By: Teddy Field

Uhm... Rolls Royce to Develop Plug-in Hybrid

If you can afford to buy a Rolls Royce, then you’re not going to be concerned about the gas mileage. You probably own an oil well, or a small country, and you need a suitable conveyance for your massive ego. Obviously, the traditional Rolls customer doesn’t want or need a plug-in hybrid. But government regulators are forcing them to make one…

A few years ago, Rolls Royce toyed with the idea of a battery-powered Phantom EV. They built a prototype called the 102ex for the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, but nobody seemed to want an electric elephant that you had to plug in after just 124 miles. In an interview with Auto Express, Rolls boss Torsten Muller explained, “We showed that car to around 100 customers around world, and the reaction we got was ambivalent.” The uber-rich don’t have time for range anxiety, and they were equally ambivalent to the environmentally friendly tanning process used on the 103ex’s leather seats.

Rolls Royce cars are the epitome of automotive perfection. Everything’s hand-made, hand-sewn, and delightfully over-the-top. The interiors are lined in supple hides that come from cows raised without barbed-wire fencing. There are luxuriously deep lambs' wool carpets, and you can personalize nearly every aspect of your Roller. Want a rosewood dash with mother-of-pearl inlays to match your favorite jewelry box? No problem! Want a custom design stitched into the leather? No problem! They can even re-create a specific night sky in the headliner (over 1,000 fiber optic lights are used to replicate the various constellations).

In 2013, nearly 95% of all Rolls Royce motorcars received some level of owner-specific customization. These people aren’t buying Nissan Leafs, or Prius Plug-ins. They’re buying deeply personalized automotive expressions. Ironically, none of those 3,630 customers requested a hybrid drivetrain, or Swarovski crystal glasses for their wheat grass. They don’t care about economy or emissions, which begs the question: Why build a hybrid?

At the recent Geneva Motor Show, Herr Muller told Auto Express, “It (a hybrid) will be essential in two years, maybe not from customer demand but through legal regulation on emissions.” By the end of the decade, U.S. and European regulations are slated to be very, very strict. And for that reason, Rolls Royce will need to at least offer a fuel efficient model in their lineup. They may only sell two, but such a car will do wonders for their corporate averages.

Rolls’ parent company, BMW, is getting ready to launch a PHEV version of the X5 called the X5 eDrive. It uses their 240-hp N20 2.0L turbo-4, mated to a 94-hp electric motor. Rolls Royce will have access to this drivetrain, which actually grew out of the BMW i8 program. According to Muller, “We are now a completely self-sustaining business, but technology like this is so expensive to develop that without BMW, Rolls-Royce would probably not have survived.”

Company officials remain tight-lipped about which RR models might receive a hybrid powertrain. And we assume that the power output will be turned up to more appropriate Rolls levels. Most traditional customers will probably scoff at a plug-in hybrid option, but 20-30 miles of gas-free range is likely to appeal to livery buyers. Either way, Rolls Royce will have to package this efficient new drivetrain, without cheapening the brand.

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