In a historic first for Rolls-Royce, the company announced Wednesday it is currently testing its first battery-electric vehicle, the Spectre, which the company is planning to launch in the fourth quarter of 2023.
The new model’s name continues the marque’s 117-year tradition of using ethereal names for its models, ones that describe their driving dynamics.
“Electric drive is uniquely and perfectly suited to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, more so than any other automotive brand,” said CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes said in the statement. “It is silent, refined and creates torque almost instantly, going on to generate tremendous power. This is what we at Rolls-Royce call ‘waftability.’”
The two-door coupe will be built on the same proprietary aluminum architecture used for all other Rolls-Royce models, which the company says was originally conceived to facilitate future electrification. The BMW-owned automaker’s testing regimen for the new model is the most demanding it has ever conceived, covering 1.5 million miles, or more than 400 years of use for an average Rolls-Royce.
The vehicle is the beginning of Rolls-Royce’s transformation into an exclusively electric vehicle manufacturer, which is planned to occur by 2030.
Electric vehicles have been considered before
This is not the first time the company considered fielding an electric vehicle.
Rolls-Royce’s first experimental electric vehicle, the 2011 102EX, was an electric version of the Phantom sedan. Five years later, the 103 EX appeared, representing the brand’s concept for future electrified vehicles. The concepts didn’t lead to production models, as the current technology didn’t allow for enough driving range, quick recharging or a long-lived battery.
But even longer ago, electrification was considered, albeit briefly.
Sir Henry Royce’s first business venture, F. H. Royce and Co., manufactured small electrical items such as doorbells, lamps, fuses and switches before tackling more complex devices, including dynamos, electric crane motors and patented the bayonet-style light bulb fitting. Certainly, he was pre-disposed to favor electrification.
His partner, Charles Rolls, considered electric-powered cars after purchasing a Columbia Electric in 1898. It was built in America and imported to the UK by Paris Singer, heir to the sewing machine fortune.
“The electric car is perfectly noiseless and clean. There is no smell or vibration, and they should become very useful when fixed charging stations can be arranged,” he said in an April 1900 interview with The Motor-Car Journal. But ultimately, Rolls rejected them as being unsuitable. “But for now, I do not anticipate that they will be very serviceable — at least for many years to come.”
That’s no longer the case. And so, the Spectre will finally fulfill the brief consideration made by Charles Rolls more than a century ago. And like the Wraith, the Spectre features rear-hinged doors and a sloping silhouette.
Spectre: A name with a deeper meaning
While the Silver Ghost earned its name from its silent operation, the Spectre’s name was chosen for a more nuanced reason, according to the company.
The Spectre possesses similar qualities describing it as “a motor car that makes its presence felt before disappearing into a world inaccessible to all but the very few.”
“Spectre is a name given to otherworldly beings synonymous with great power and apparition; creatures of an alternative realm that make their presence felt through fleeting manifestation,” Mueller-Oetvoes said. “Then, as quickly as it appears, it dissipates, leaving a wake of exhilaration, energy and intrigue.”
The first of many forthcoming luxury electric sedans
Rolls-Royce is clearly looking to be first in the high-end luxury EV segment, beating its German-owned British rival Bentley, to market by nearly two years.
Volkswagen-owned Bentley has stated their initial EV offering will hit showrooms in 2025, and will exclusively offer electric vehicles by 2030, much like Rolls-Royce, which will not be manufacturing or selling internal combustion engine vehicles. It’s a huge undertaking for a luxury brand, that sold 1,260 units in 2020, and 355 units in the first half of 2021.
“Now we begin a remarkable undertaking,” Mueller-Oetvoes said, “the living fulfillment of Charles Rolls’ prophecy.”