Among luxury brands, few are more bound by tradition than Rolls-Royce, but you might find that hard to believe after catching a glimpse of the new 103EX. Part of the marque’s “Vision Next 100” plan for the future, the concept vehicle offers a glimpse of what an ultra-luxury vehicle might look like in the age of autonomous driving.
The Rolls-Royce 103EX is the latest in a series of unusually edgy prototypes the British maker has revealed in recent years, but it is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Rolls’ German parent BMW – which has unveiled its own futuristic concept, as has sibling British brand Mini.
“With the Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 we were mindful not to dwell on the past,” said Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the brand’s CEO. “We wanted to be as innovative as possible and at the same time transcend the design history of the marque.”
The unveiling of the Rolls 103EX comes just as production wraps up on the marque’s flagship, the yacht-sized Phantom. While it doesn’t reveal what’s in store for the Phantom replacement, the concept vehicle does give a hint of what could come a bit further into the future.
It is frequently said that there will be more change in the next decade than the industry has seen in the last half century, and that idea is reflected in both the design and the technology of the 103EX. While Rolls has been reluctant to embrace the push towards electrified drivetrains, it appears finally ready to accept that trend, while also nodding towards a future of autonomous, connected technologies.
“In short,” the maker suggests, “the Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 utilizes envisioned advances in technology to herald the return to authentic coachbuilding.”
Significantly, the footprint of the 103EX mirrors that of the outgoing Phantom, as 4.9 meters in length and 1.6 meters in height. Visually, there are classic Rolls-Royce cues, such as the tall, “Pantheon” grille topped by the familiar Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament. But the nose is flanked by two large, outrider wheels barely concealed within aerodynamic fenders.
(Farewell to Phantom as Rolls Royce prepares new flagship. For more, Click Here.)
Rolls isn’t revealing specific powertrain details, beyond stating the 103EX uses a zero-emissions system. The design of the concept takes advantage of the flexibility an electric propulsion system might offer by providing an unusual front cargo bay, two large suitcases popping out of its concealed storage compartment ahead of the cabin.
The Spirit of Ecstasy has been the most familiar symbol of the Rolls-Royce brand since it was formed in 1911. The original statue was created by sculptor Charles Sykes and modeled after Eleanor Thornton – one of the victims lost when a German U-Boat sunk the SS Persia near Crete during World War I.
Thornton has an even bigger presence in the Rolls-Royce 103EX in the form of “Eleanor,” the artificial intelligence “virtual assistant and chauffeur” who passengers interface with. “She” manages pretty much everything, from setting destinations, to tuning the radio or handling other connectivity duties. Give a command and Eleanor will retrieve the 103EX from a remote parking spot.
“She ‘brings’ the car around when her passengers are ready to travel and,” Rolls explains, “whilst conveying her charges to their next destination, helpfully but discreetly makes suggestions and recommendations, briefing them ahead of their arrival so they are ready to ‘perform.’”
(Click Here for TDB’s first drive in the 2016 Rolls Royce Wraith.)
A large, state-of-the-art OLED high-definition screen is used to show routing, provides news and entertainment, or to brief a passenger about the events of the day.
Of course, the Rolls 103EX is, first and foremost, a luxury car, and the centerpiece of the cabin is a silk and wool sofa, “a beautifully textured, ivory-coloured luxurious throne upon which our passengers are conveyed, and from which they command.”
How much of the 103EX will be offered to tomorrow’s Masters of the Universe is unclear, but some key elements are all but certain to appear. Despite its initial reluctance, Rolls will have to adapt to increasingly stringent global emissions and mileage standards, something that will likely lead to either pure battery-electric or plug-in drive options. And autonomous driving would seem a natural fit for the classic Rolls buyer.
Meanwhile, with Siri available on every iPhone and Amazon’s Alexa an increasingly familiar presence in home and office, virtual assistant Eleanor would seem a prerequisite.
(Rolls-Royce begins development of new SUV. Click Here for the inside story.)
So, while the edgy design of the Rolls-Royce 103EX may seem little more than a fantasy in chrome, many of the underlying concepts are likely to reappear in production in the not-too-distant future.