“Engineering models will be assessed on public roads in various locations around the world,” the company said in a statement earlier this month.
It’s 12 months since the car maker revealed that it was working on a bespoke platform. The first new models based on the architecture will arrive in 2018, Rolls-Royce says.
There’s no direct clue as to which model will be the first to get the new platform, but the first is likely to be the 'Cullinan’ super-luxury SUV, which is also expected to arrive later in 2018.
A replacement for the Phantom won’t be far behind, given that the the main structure of the current car dates back to 2003 and the relaunch of the brand under BMW ownership. The current Phantom is based on an aluminium spaceframe chassis which BMW developed using experience gained from producing the Z8 roadster in the late 1990s.
Beyond the end of this decade, the Ghost will also switch to the new architecture. The current model is loosely based on the steel monocoque structure of the outgoing BMW 7-series, although the Ghost shares very little with the previous-generation BMW flagship.
A new-generation aluminium platform will undoubtedly deliver notably better performance for future Rolls Royce models, including greater refinement, reduced tyre noise and the improved ride that comes with much improved structural stiffness.
However, this all-new architecture will also be able to incorporate the BMW Group's most advanced electrical architecture. It is this that will enable Rolls-Royce to incorporate various autonomous driving systems - including lane assist and active steering - as well as gesture controls in the cabin and a more advanced, web-connected sat-nav system.
More importantly, perhaps, the new electrical architecture will also incorporate support for hybrid and plug-in hybrid transmissions. For vehicles that will spend much of their time in the centre of the world’s ‘megacities’ some degree of electric-only running is regarded as essential for future Rolls-Royce models.
Another interesting point about this announcement is that Rolls-Royce is now generating enough cash to pay for its own product development, including the considerable cost of this new spaceframe platform, which is unique to the brand.
Exactly a year ago, Rolls-Royce revealed that its 2014 sales had leapt to 4063 cars, a rise of 12% year-on-year. It’s thought that this meant Rolls Royce had a turnover of more than a £1 billion, allowing it to spend between £50m and £70m per year on research and development.
The company has yet to release its sales results for 2015. Rolls-Royce’s 2015 performance, however, is likely to have been hit by a combination of the Chinese economic slowdown and that country’s move against what its ruling party sees as “excessive demonstrations of wealth”. The United States remains the brand’s biggest overall market.