By Chris Haak
Rolls-Royce announced said on Sunday that it has developed an electrically-powered version of its Phantom flagship sedan, called the 102EX. Though the company claims no production plans are in place for a Phantom EV, Rolls-Royce considers the car to be part of a program to test alternative drivetrains that could be used in future Rolls-Royce cars.
To date, most EVs have been built on economy-car platforms, since the batteries and control systems for an EV typically cost far more money to produce than do traditional internal-combustion engines and their related systems. By pairing EVs with economy-car parts, the batteries and hardware can be smaller and less powerful, and the car won’t be prohibitively expensive. However, at the end of the day, you have a $30,000 or $40,000 economy car. Said another way, most EVs provide a small-car experience for the price of a luxury car.
The nice thing about a car that can easily top a half million dollars when a few option boxes are checked (one of my favorites is called “Drinks Cabinet Mounted in Rear Doors” for $18,200) is that it’s reasonably easy to bury the cost of the EV hardware. The 6.8 liter (sorry – 6 ¾ liter) BMW-based V12 surely can’t be an inexpensive engine to build, so skipping that and the Phantom’s six-speed automatic probably knocks $20,000 to $25,000 off the car’s cost right off the bat. There’s plenty of room in a car with a 140.6 inch wheelbase (150.4 inches for the extended wheelbase model) to hide a few battery packs, and it’s unlikely that the car’s massive chassis would notice a few hundred pounds of batteries, when it’s tipping the scales at around three tons in its standard form.
Rolls-Royce was careful to not say that the 102EX is a production prototype, or that the company even has production intent for the electrified Phantom. Instead, Rolls is attempting to set the tone for the conversation with a website devoted to the car (http://www.electricluxury.com/) and with a YouTube video or two, where they ask the fundamental question of whether an electric Phantom is perfection or compromise.
Obviously, no journalists have yet had the chance to drive the 102EX, since the car only will make its debut on March 1 at the Geneva Motor Show. It’s not hard at all to imagine that the 102EX could have very similar driving characteristics to the standard Phantom: effortless power, lots of torque, silent operation. In fact, it’s likely considerably quieter inside than a standard Phantom, since there is no exhaust or induction noise or vibration to muffle or mask. It will, quite likely, be a fortress of solitude on the highway.
However, it’s hard not to see the obvious compromise staring a potential owner in the face: range anxiety. Who in the world would want a very big, very expensive, very fast luxury sedan if that car could run out of power after, say, 100-125 miles and require at a minimum a few hours to recharge and continue. Is that not the defining compromise that any EV buyer has to accept, whether that person is buying a Mitsubishi i, Nissan Leaf, Mini E, or a Rolls-Royce Phantom EV?
The company plans to allow owners and other “thought leaders” to drive the prototype sometime after the Geneva show, and to proffer their opinions on whether the technology is ready to be accepted by the discriminating buyers who are considering a Rolls-Royce.
Now, combining a plug-in EV drivetrain with a powerful V8 (instead of V12) range extender in a future Phantom might be a more effective way to improve the standard Phantom’s abysmal fuel economy (11 MPG city/18 MPG highway) without sacrificing performance – or traveling range. Right now, the 102EX seems as if it has the potential to be a white elephant with a cool, translucent Spirit of Ecstasy on its giant [now unnecessary] grille.