Rolls-Royce is actively considering a 4x4, with any production model likely to be offered at a considerably higher price than other luxury SUVs.

Company boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös confirmed that Rolls-Royce designers have been working on potential styling directions for what would be the most radical model in the firm’s history, but emphasised that any potential production model — if given the go-ahead — remained several years off.

“For me, it is less of a question of whether we should do it — the segment is interesting, growing and stable even in times of economic crisis — as opposed to one of whether it fits with the image and brand of Rolls-Royce,” said Müller-Ötvös. “What I can say is that we are currently investigating whether Rolls-Royce can carry such a vehicle.”

In a bid to ensure authenticity, Rolls-Royce’s design team, led by Giles Taylor, are said to be extensively researching the company’s early history, when customers would typically specify their own, bespoke body styles and styling to sit on standard running gear. As a result, it is not yet decided whether the Rolls-Royce would have an overt 4x4 look, lean more towards crossover styling or adopt a more dramatic ‘shooting brake’ style.

When asked if the early design work had been positive, Müller-Ötvös said he had “not seen the right answer yet”, but admitted that the plans are at an early stage. 

“It is a difficult project,” he said. “If we are to do it, we need to create something that fires the imagination in a timeless way, so we cannot rush. As a result, I would not rule it out or necessarily be confident that it will happen.”

The news that Rolls-Royce is even considering such a vehicle signifies a marked shift in attitude at the firm, which has previously said it has no reason to launch such a car. However, customer enquiries, the booming and consistent sales in the segment and potential rivals in the sector from Range Rover, Bentley and Lamborghini have kick-started plans.

Müller-Ötvös added that he saw no need for Rolls-Royce to introduce a model at a lower price than the Ghost, indicating that the SUV would cost at least £250,000 and possibly more, given its likely dimensions, engineering standards and material quality. In contrast, the confirmed top-end models from Range Rover, Bentley and Lamborghini are likely to cost from around £150,000.

The SUV project has also gained momentum as Rolls-Royce seeks to raise profits without compromising the exclusivity of its vehicles on the road. The greatest sales potential for a Rolls-Royce SUV is likely to be in emerging markets such as China, Russia and India, as well as the US.

If Rolls-Royce does decide to build some kind of 4x4, crossover or shooting brake, it does have the technology to hand. Both from a size, proportion and technical point of view, the Ghost is the most promising basis for a new kind of Rolls-Royce. Although the Ghost is sometimes referred to as being based on the BMW 7-series, the two cars share a minimum of components. 

The BMW’s floor, crash structure, electrical architecture and basic suspension architecture are carried over, but the rest of the Ghost is unique, including the front and rear bulkheads and the upper structures, which together do much to give the car its distinctive proportions.

However, using the bare bones of the 7-series also opens the way for Rolls-Royce to use both a four-wheel drive transmission and a hybrid powertrain from the existing BMW parts bin. 

The basic Ghost structure could be further adapted with the use of new bulkheads and a raised seating position to create the basis for the vehicle. The basic suspension architecture of the new X5 could also be adapted for any new vehicle. Hints that Rolls-Royce may start to use carbonfibre structures could be useful to reduce weight high up in the vehicle. A carbonfibre roof and tailgate assembly would be useful in dynamic terms.

It seems much less likely that the Phantom would be used as a basis for the car. The unique aluminium spaceframe structure would have to be extensively redesigned and resized. Moreover, Autocar understands that the Phantom costs as much as £150,000 to build at factory prices, making any spin-off model even more expensive, partly thanks to much greater development costs than would be incurred by using the Ghost as a basis for the new model.

Müller-Ötvös emphasised that all Rolls-Royces would almost certainly be made at the firm’s Goodwood plant because customers value the ‘Britishness’ of Rolls-Royce so highly. The current site has no room for expansion but it is operating two shifts per day, with the scope to move to three if demand grows.

“It is feasible to add a shift, but we can’t consider building away from Goodwood,” said Müller-Ötvös. “The customers place huge value on the traditions and craftsmanship that we have at Rolls-Royce, and those skills and that ambience cannot simply be transported elsewhere.

“Whatever we do, we must also balance the need for exclusivity of our cars, and the traditions of the company. We are not in the business of trying to dramatically grow volumes, because our customers expect a certain exclusivity. Any growth must be balanced against that.”

In addition, the design team’s research into early Rolls-Royce models is said to have led to an alternative idea for the firm to raise its profits. Using carbonfibre technology pioneered by parent firm BMW, it is considering allowing customers even greater scope for personalisation than is currently available. Bespoke bodywork modifications 

would have to work within the remit of strict homologation rules, but an insider told Autocar that the idea holds great sway among the mega-rich hooked on the concept of driving vehicles that are exclusive to them.

Jim Holder & Hilton Holloway