Rolls-Royce is set to join the race to delete the driver – and the chauffeur too.
The iconic British luxury car maker is looking to its parent company, BMW, to adopt autonomous driving technologies before the end of the decade.
“But we have already autonomous driving – we have chauffeurs,” joked Rolls-Royce boss Torsten Muller-Otvos while speaking to Drive at the Paris motor show last week.
“Seriously, that certainly fits well within our brand and is maybe even considered the next step towards the effortless driving experience; letting a little robot drive your car in a very smooth and efficient way.
“But only when it is absolutely reliable, because our customers do not accept any compromises, no experiments, nothing…this needs to be perfection in is purest sense.”
BMW is just one of the leading car makers currently developing driverless technologies using high-tech radar-guidance systems and stereo camera technology.
The German brand has been testing its co-pilot system on European roads for the last three years and has recently signed a deal with Chinese search engine site, Baidu, to access its data services – including road maps – to expand the testing process into Beijing and Shanghai.
While Rolls-Royce is keen to adopt advanced technologies such as autonomous driving systems, Muller-Otvos was less enthusiastic about encroaching emission regulations forcing the luxurious British brand to create hybrid and fully-electric vehicles in the future.
He recognises the need to do so, but said it will only be in response to tightening legal requirements rather than demand from its well-heeled customer base.
“We are looking into it but it is not the highest pressure because our customers are not asking for it,” he said.
“The reason why I am not relaxed is because we will see more the legal side forcing us into that direction. For that reason we are preparing ourselves for the future, but our customers are not asking for it.”
The former BMW executive, who has guided Rolls-Royce to record sales and expanded its line-up to an unprecedented three model lines – Phantom, Ghost and the recently-arrived Wraith coupe – admits that electric propulsion is ideally suited to the prestige and performance characteristics expected from a Rolls-Royce. And says a plug-in hybrid powertrain would be an ideal solution that, using England as an example, provided owners with the range and flexibility to drive from their country estates to inner-city London where it could be driven on electric power alone to avoid the city’s congestion charges.
“In general, electric fits perfectly to the brand; it is totally powerful, it is effortless, smooth and silent,” he said.
“But [there are] too many compromises in terms of range not being sufficient. If this can be overcome by technology, then I say why not…maybe an interim step is plug-in hybrid because this gives you both opportunities.”
But he concedes a fully-electric option based on the 102EX concept car it debuted at the 2011 Geneva motor show has limitations his customers would not accept, which he highlighted by the fact that Rolls-Royce did not receive a single enquiry from its extremely wealthy customer base for a version of that car.
“I did not have a single order on 102EX,” he said.
“Normally when we show cars outside [at a motor show] I have people ringing me saying ‘I’d like one of these’…it did not happen with 102EX.
While Muller-Otvos was adamant that any future hybrid application would be dictated by emission regulations rather than significant demand from the green-tinged elite, he defended his customer’s environmental consciousness.
“That does not mean our customers are not environmentally friendly, they do this on a different level,” he said.
“They are very aware of the issues, and generally make a bigger contribution to reducing emissions through the industries they are involved in.
“Nobody needs a Rolls-Royce to get from A to B. They want it because it is a piece of art, because it is a reflection on their success…it is different for us to other car makers.”