In the first few decades of the 20th century, virtually everything was negotiable when it came to buying a new car, provided you had the money. The finest cars in the world left the factory as little more than an engine and chassis, leaving body and interior entirely up to the customer. Coachbuilders ruled the day, attending to the whims and desires of their clients, ensuring that virtually no two cars were exactly the same. Advances in safety, technology, and manufacturing drove the majority of coachbuilders and their unique cars to extinction in the postwar era, but looking at Rolls-Royce’s vision of the future, it looks like bespoke may soon be the name of the game once again.
The EX103 was unveiled last week in London as the final member of parent company BMW Group’s Vision 100 Next trio, and the first pure concept car in Rolls-Royce’s 112-year history. The car rolled in through a pair of doors in a cloud of fog that covered the floor of the historic Roundhouse theater, accentuating its massive 19.35-foot length, and making a dramatic entrance perfectly suited for a Rolls-Royce — even if there wasn’t anyone in it.
Rolls-Royce is one of the few automakers left in the world where the majority of its owners are chauffeured, and in the next few decades, the company believes the majority of those drivers may be out of a job. EX103 is a fully-autonomous EV, a self-reliant luxo-pod that showcases just how far ultra-luxury cars have come, and how far they can go. But to us, it also shows how much the segment has stayed the same.
With its double-bow fenders and tapered front end that terminates with a massive chrome Parthenon grille and Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, the EX103 is reminiscent of the opulent tourers of the ’30s, like the 1934 Jonckheere Phantom I coupe, one of the crown jewels of the Petersen Automotive Museum. Its big spoke wheels are encased in massive squared-off fenders, and while its tapered rear end bears more than a resemblance to the current Wraith, the rest of the car is pure science fiction.
Rolls is bold enough to conceive of a future when its massive V12 engines will have fallen out of favor, replaced by a modular electric powertrain that opens the door to a world of possibilities. Locomotive-like power has already been proven in EVs like the Tesla P90D, and well, electric locomotives, electric motors, and a centrally-mounted battery pack could allow the company to easily tailor a car according to customer specifications. Want a 1930s-style long bonnet? It can be done. Room for six? No problem. Maybe even a convertible with a steering wheel? The Rolls of the future can make it happen.
Without a big engine up front, Rolls could’ve turned the EX103 into some sort of futuristic pod á la the Mercedes F015. Instead, it gave the car a massive, imposing front end, loading it with two custom suitcases designed to be loaded by the help, and unloaded by the hotel staff. At this level of luxury, there’s no reason for the car’s owner to do anything.
And speaking of not doing anything, there’s no steering wheel inside EX103. There isn’t any safety equipment inside EX103 either, not even seat belts. Rolls is confident that autonomous driving systems will be so good in the next few decades that safety features as we know them will one day be irrelevant.
Instead, once the massive canopy and single rear-hinged door open, there’s a large couch, plenty of glass, acres of deep-pile carpet and wood, and a massive infotainment screen that allows you to communicate with “Eleanor,” a digital representation of the Spirit of Ecstasy logo that acts as chauffeur, personal assistant, and concierge. Rolls envisions a time when Eleanor will integrate with owners’ smartphones (or whatever they’ll be using in the future) to make the car an integral part of their daily routines. Its artificial intelligence will learn the owner’s habits, allowing the car to arrive when needed, and take them wherever they need to go in the silent, opulent cabin.
The idea of fully bespoke cars in the upper echelons of the market makes sense. Today’s Rolls-Royce may trim an interior in whatever the customer wants and allow them to select paints from its famous 44,000 colors, but at the end of the day, a Phantom is still a Phantom; there’s only so much the company can do about that. In the future, the wealthiest people in the world will still want to be driven. They’ll want to be surrounded by luxury, and they’ll want big, powerful cars to convey power. The EX103 does all of these things impressively, and with technology advancing the way it has, it looks like something like it could someday become a reality.