Rolls-Royce’s vision of a self-driving future includes bespoke cars built to order

Rolls-Royce predicts self-driving cars with one-off styling and interiors along with its own Siri-like system called Eleanor


It might take a good chunk of the next 100 years to get used to Rolls-Royce’s idea of its luxury, autonomous-driving future.

Launched on Thursday in London, the Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 is a long way from the Cullinan crossover SUV many people had been expecting, but a full-house all-electric concept car.

In its “step back to go forward” approach, the Rolls-Royce idea of the next 100 years of luxury mobility is to have not just one or four Rolls-Royce body styles, but effectively to have hundreds.

Bespoke cars made to order

It is anticipating a return to its coach-building roots with its richest customers getting one-off, bespoke bodies and interiors based around fully developed, fully autonomous Rolls-Royce running gear. It sits on 28-inch wheels, hand-made from 65 separate pieces of aluminium, which are then hidden behind spats.

Given full licence to go crazy in interpreting luxury mobility over the next century, the Rolls-Royce designers have delivered a 5.9-metre long machine that is simultaneously retro and futuristic in its look.

Developed along the same lines as BMW’s own 100th birthday present from March, the BMW Vision Next 100, Rolls-Royce claims its Vision Next 100 is “a truly revolutionary, highly authentic exploration of the future of luxury mobility”.

“With the Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 we were mindful not to dwell on the past. We wanted to be as innovative as possible and at the same time transcend the design history of the marque,” Rolls-Royce design boss Giles Taylor said.

“In the spirit of the great coachbuilt cars of the past, Rolls-Royce will create the chassis of the future, hand-built from the most advanced materials and powered by a zero emissions powertrain,” he said.

“Advanced manufacturing technologies will enable customers to involve ? themselves even more in the design of the shape, size and silhouette of their personal Rolls-Royce vision.

Customers commission concepts

“The future customer will commission his or her own concept. Rolls-Royce will design and manufacture this personal vision of each customer and make every Rolls-Royce a unique bespoke masterpiece.”

That’s going to be awkward in reality, given the global demands for crash safety testing on significant changes to bodywork, but if a customer wants to pay for it, Rolls-Royce is intent on delivering it.

Eleanor in control

It’s not just the body style, though, because Rolls-Royce has developed its own Siri for the Vision Next 100, though it’s not so crass as to suggest such a thing.

Instead, it will use the voice of Eleanor, named after Eleanor Thornton, who was the model for sculptor Charles Sykes’ original 1911 Spirit of Ecstasy that still sits atop all Rolls-Royce radiator grilles.

This voice, equipped with artificial intelligence, will be the connection to the digital world of the future Rolls-Royce models, taking up duties as everything from chauffeur, personal assistant and tour guide. Eleanor will also be tied in to all of the car’s safety and assistance features and will be capable of securing passengers in an emergency and finding her own charging stations.

Parking the car won’t be the responsibility of its owners or drivers, either, with Eleanor taking care of that, and of ensuring it is waiting for them again whenever they wish to drive off.

Electric power

While Rolls-Royce has confirmed the car will run completely on electric power, it hasn’t given any indication of how that might happen, leaving the options as either hydrogen fuel-cell or battery-electric power.

“It has a blend of a futuristic, powerful, zero-emission drivetrain and advanced suspension that sees the vehicle almost skim across the road surface,” Rolls-Royce said.

“As a V12 combustion engine is most unlikely to exist in the future, one can only surmise how this Rolls-Royce will be powered. A hint may appear in the Grand Sanctuary that is the interior of the Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100.”

With its unusual clamshell-canopy door arrangement and 1.6-metre high roofline, the Vision Next 100 lets people climb in and out without bowing their heads or backs, in keeping with the most luxurious carriages of the pre-motoring era.

“The Grand Arrival gesture of the Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 creates a stage for our important passengers as they arrive at their ultimate destination,” Taylor said, insisting the clamshell opening framed the occupants as they alighted down the extended stairs from the cabin.

“The Rolls-Royce patron will continue to be a famous figure in the future.

“I envision that the Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 will play a key role in these people’s lives, guiding and conveying them effortlessly through their life’s journey in an exquisite sanctuary where they can reflect in peace ahead of arriving in the grandest style.”

Silk-clad sofa

Its interior is more of a home than a car, with the centerpiece being an enormous silk-clad sofa, rather than a traditional car seat, and the thick-pile woolen carpet has even been woven in London, rather than traditional car-supplier factories.

As long as the current stretched Phantom Extended Wheelbase, the Vision Next 100 Rolls-Royce also delivers an enormous OLED screen at the front of the cabin to entertain or inform its passengers.

That’s not to say the design isn’t without controversy. There is a dramatic oddness to it that’s utterly intentional, with the traditional polished metal grille not just headlining the car’s face, but floating free, with the rest of the traditional nose banished completely.

The tiny space needed for the car’s laser headlights meant Taylor’s team could craft and sculpt the nose almost infinitely, and it has.

The front wheels are covered by pontoons that push forward, leaving open sections to the grille where the bodywork and headlights would traditionally sit.

There’s a distinct two-tone look to the upper and lower halves of the bodywork, too, with the lower section made in painted metal and the upper half in darkened glass.

“This lightness is achieved through the paring back of this vehicle to the essence of a Rolls- Royce by the Design team, who were freed from their current constraints by the new propulsion and coach-build technologies now available to them,” Taylor said.

“So, for example, where an engine would once have occupied the entire under-bonnet area of the car, a luggage compartment (which opens automatically on arrival) is positioned just aft of the front wheels.”