It's a rare day that Rolls-Royce unveils a new car, it's an even rarer day that Rolls-Royce unveils its future vision for luxury motoring.
Unveiled in London, as part of BMW Group's Vision Next 100, the Rolls-Royce concept outlines the future vision for the prestige car company. Embracing the Rolls-Royce legacy, the bespoke vision paints a picture of how super-wealthy patrons will travel in the future.
At first glance, the Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 cuts an unusual line. Losing the front bumper (because future autonomous cars will never hit anything, of course) the encased front wheels give the bladed look of a hydrofoil.
The pillared grill of Rolls-Royce, combined with those aggressively narrowed eyes puts a serious face on this Roller, one that we can't help thinking looks a bit like General Grievous, the cyborg from Star Wars.
But stirring design (good or bad) is what concept cars are all about, and when you turn to the profile, and take in that long bonnet that stretches over the horizon, all is forgiven. Yes, the seeming isolation of those front wheels is a little odd, but the strength and length of this Rolls-Royce will take your breath away. It's a reflection of deco styling of the 30s and 50s, keeping alive that coachbuilding heritage that Rolls-Royce still pushes.
Rolls-Royce say this this concept is built on a modular platform, designed to be bespoke. If you want an open-topped sports car you drive yourself, you can have it. If you want a cabin for four people you can have it.
This Vision Next 100 concept is about the same length as the long wheel base Phantom, and about the same height. But switching away from a V12 engine, the future will be green, with electric motors front and rear. When pushed on performance, Rolls-Royce responded to questions stating that there was no reason the future of Rolls-Royce wouldn't offer the sort of power and speed its current models offer. Whether you'll be able to tickle the autonomous driver into really gunning the engine, we can't be sure.
When Rolls-Royce unveiled the Dawn in 2015, there was a lot of talk about the "grand arrival", how you can stand and step from the car with grace, perfectly fitting of billionaire magnates and heads of state. The Vision Next 100 Rolls-Royce is designed around that patron, the vessel for delivering its important passengers with anticipation.
Fulfilling this idea of the grand arrival, we're presented with a characteristic suicide door, but also a roof that opens up, so the passenger can step from the Rolls-Royce, into the warm/critical embrace of their public, stepping gracefully down the step onto the laser red carpet.
That reveals the interior of this majestic car, based around two passengers and no one else. The Rolls-Royce of the future is designed to be entirely autonomous, driven by a digital chauffeur. For the passengers, that means a cabin space that's for them, without having to look at the back of the front seats, or the back of Alfred's head.
That not only affords a full and unobscured view out of the front, across that long bonnet and through the sapphire glass Spirit of Ecstasy, but also gives a full OLED display beneath it – to inform, to entertain, to keep you connected. Rolls-Royce describes it as a "sanctuary", a safe cocoon from which you emerge back into the real world.
Eleanor: The spirit of Rolls-Royce AI
For those who follow RR lore, you'll know that the Spirit of Ecstasy was originally crafted after the image of Eleanor Thornton. Rolls-Royce's vision of the future presents Eleanor, rather like Space Odysseys' HAL. Eleanor is your digital assistant: she brings the car to life, she knows everything about you, where you're going, what you want, and how to make it happen.
Eleanor is designed to cater to your every whim: she'll be making arrangements for you, talking to you, the AI overlord in Rolls-Royce's utopian vision of the future. And Eleanor doesn't have to live in your car - she'll cross your digital devices, absorbing your world and making sure you have everything you need.
Rolls-Royce today said that it had conducted research among its owners, and that some of them never touch a piece of luggage. We've mentioned that long bonnet, and we've mentioned that there's no engine in the front as it's an electrical powertrain, so that bonnet becomes a luggage space.
On arrival at your location, the luggage compartment will open, the cases presented for the hotel porter to easily transport them to the presidential suite. You'll probably still have to tip the porter yourself, but who knows, perhaps Eleanor will take care of that too.
Iconic Impulses: The BMW Group Future Experience
BMW Group unveiled its first Vision Next 100 car in March in celebration of the centenary of the company. The UK is the home of two key BMW brands - Rolls-Royce and Mini - so presents the perfect place for the future vision of these two brands.
BMW's future experience is presented at the Roundhouse in Camden, London, between 16-26 June 2016 and is open to the public. The exhibition, called Iconic Impulses, is a roadshow that's showing the future of motoring for the company, across the BMW, Rolls-Royce and Mini brands.
The next stop on the tour is Los Angeles, 11-16 October 2016, where BMW will unveil a fourth and final car - BMW Motorrad.