Recently, Rolls-Royce quietly unveiled a special edition of its Phantom Drophead Coupe: the Nighthawk. The Nighthawk makes extensive use of carbon fiber and black paint to give the car a stealth look, even going so far as to use radar-absorbing materials around the windshield to add to the stealth nature of the 18-foot-long, 5,800-pound land yacht.
The $569,600 base price of the Nighthawk is largely irrelevant, partly because if you have to ask, you obviously can’t afford one of the nine examples being built, but also because anyone who buys one will likely take further advantage of Rolls-Royce’s Bespoke program and customize theirs to the point that the base price is nothing but a distant memory. This is, of course, not the first special edition that Rolls-Royce has put out. Recently, the Metropolitan Collection gained a good bit of attention over the fact that it took a full month for each featured cityscape to be hand-assembled.
Considering the demand for these special editions, it’s easy to understand why Rolls-Royce produces them. It may, however, be time for Rolls-Royce to build something even bolder than another special edition — something completely new. Specifically, the time is perfect for a Rolls-Royce SUV.
At first glance, it may sound like a crazy idea. Rolls-Royce builds cars. Why not build a hybrid or fully electric vehicle to improve emissions? Why not build something smaller and more affordable than the Ghost to attract more buyers?
For a lot of manufacturers, those would be fair points, but Rolls-Royce is a profit-driven manufacturer, meaning that profit per vehicle is more important than the total number of vehicles sold. A more affordable Rolls-Royce might sell in larger numbers, but it’s probably not worth the risk of diluting the brand and hurting profitability up top.
As for hybrid, electric, and alternative fuel vehicles, Eric Shepherd, president of Rolls-Royce North America, said that when the electric Phantom prototype was unveiled a few years ago, no one showed any real interest. It seems that the ultra-rich just don’t want an electric, hybrid, or even a hydrogen-powered vehicle. They like their gasoline-powered internal combustion engines, and they like their big, powerful, ultra-luxurious cars.
That’s actually part of what makes it such a good time for a Rolls-Royce SUV. Unlike Lotus or Ferrari, Rolls-Royce’s customers already expect their vehicles to be large and heavy. If you think about it, it’s almost a natural continuation of the Rolls-Royce lineup to add an SUV. Its existence wouldn’t dilute the brand like a sub-Ghost likely would, and unlike the electric Phantom, it would likely be a vehicle that customers would want to buy.
One risk, though, is that the ultra-luxury SUV segment doesn’t really exist yet. Land Rover sold more than 12,000 Range Rovers in the U.S. in 2014, but that model starts at only a little over $83,000, and even the top-of-the-line Range Rover Autobiography Black is “only” $185,000. The upcoming Bentley Bentayga and rumored Mercedes-Maybach GLS500 at least show that other automakers believe that there’s a market for ultra-luxury SUVs.
The lack of an established ultra-luxury SUV segment may actually prove to be an advantage for Rolls-Royce. Many of the world’s truly wealthy already own the exact same Range Rovers that attorneys and surgeons routinely drive, as well. In a world where there’s enough demand for luxury sedans priced well above the S-Class and 7 Series, it’s easy to see how there would also be demand for an SUV priced well above even the nicest Range Rover.
As the world economy continues to improve, China continues to create all kinds of new wealth, and if other automakers are exploring entering the ultra-luxury SUV segment, it would be a shame for Rolls-Royce to miss out on the opportunity to enter a segment that it rightly should dominate. Something tells us that this isn’t a completely novel idea for the folks over in Goodwood. Rolls-Royce’s PR team declined to confirm anything when asked, but there have been hints for a while. Our suspicion is that Rolls-Royce has already started work on an SUV and is just waiting for the right time to introduce it.
Either way, though, we say the time is now. Go for it, Rolls-Royce. It’ll be awesome.