Finest cut for the rough

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Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN — The uber-wealthy now have another reason to be uber-happy. With the release of the Cullinan, Rolls-Royce has formally, decisively, and dramatically entered the sport-utility vehicle market.

British Issue

“Together with the Dawn and Wraith, the Cullinan provides a third emotional component to our lineup,” said Paul Harris, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars regional director for Asia Pacific, at a press preview of the SUV here.

The UK car maker makes no bones about the significance of its first sport-ute in its more than a century of making the most luxurious of cars. Named after the world’s largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found, the Cullinan was systematically and deliberately developed over some of the harshest of environments, such as the Scottish highlands, ice-blanketed passes of the Austrian Alps, and sand dunes of the Arabian peninsula.

All-wheel drive and all-wheel steering lend further confidence and credence to an already compelling, 6.75-liter, 48-valve, twin-turbo V12 engine generating a stout 563 hp and 850 Nm. Designers and engineers made sure the Cullinan looks every inch a Rolls-Royce — with the signature long hood and an execution of the familiar Parthenon grille.

In exclusive interview, Mr. Harris admitted to BusinessWorld; “We had to make sure that [getting in the segment] was right for us, and we wanted to do it in the right way.” He continued that the Cullinan had “bookends” of the SUV market — the “ultimate luxury” of the vaunted “magic carpet” ride, and an incredible capability and competency off road. The executive quipped; “This product is a complete and perfect blend of these two qualities. That was our remit to our engineers.”

The Cullinan suspension systems adapts through “millions of calculations every second as it continuously varies the electronically controlled shock absorber adjustment system — reacting to body and wheel acceleration, steering inputs and camera information.” Meanwhile, a double-wishbone front axle and five-link rear axle control lateral roll and shear forces to deliver “incredible” agility and stability, as does the addition of four-wheel steering, which makes the SUV nimble.

An electronically controlled shock absorber adjustment system uses an air compression system “to actively push down any wheel it detects losing traction to ensure every wheel is constantly in contact with the ground and maximum torque is being provided to all wheels.”

Again, it is about Rolls-Royce “wholeheartedly committing to [the project], and in the right way,” Mr. Harris underscored.

In a presentation, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars product manager for the Cullinan, Jonathan Shears, pointed out that the vehicle’s “rear seats sit higher than those in the front passenger, [boasting] a pavilion view through the side windows, and a clear view over the front seats and through the front screen through the adventure ahead.” As with its siblings, pampering comes standard in the Cullinan, such as massaging seats, a glassware holder, and a champagne bottle cooler.

The car maker said the Cullinan is the first “three-box” car in SUVs. A partition wall gives a distinct “environment for passengers,” one that is acoustically insulated from even the cargo hold. “It’s an off-road vehicle that offers more than those currently available in the market,” Mr. Shears declared.

A five-seat Cullinan is also available for those who want more space and flexibility.

As for its target demographic, Mr. Harris described the Cullinan client as, “style-conscious, definitely… someone who likes to stand out from the crowd. They are young, active, social individuals with a love of the outdoors and adventure. They are very family-focused, living mobile and often sporting lifestyles.”

Sales prospects appear to be bullish for the brand across the Asia-Pacific region, continued the official.

Mr. Harris reported that the “ultra-high net worth market is growing by 8-9%, irrespective of economic changes… the market opportunity is there.”

But territories where duty rates continually change can prove to be troublesome. “There I think sometimes we struggle to grow purely because the price points at which somebody can buy is so far out. If change is a regular occurrence it makes even the ultra wealthy wonder when is the time for them to buy. I think that is a bit of a challenge from a Rolls-Royce perspective,” he revealed. On the whole though, “Asia… has a big pool of ultra-high net worths. I still think it’s a significant growth engine for Rolls-Royce globally.”

The company doesn’t consider its first foray into the SUV market as facetious undertaking for a brand steeped in tradition. Rather, it is about living up to standards. “Ultimately, Rolls-Royce has always been a trendsetter over 100 years. If you look at the trends, the SUV segment is the one segment globally that continues to grow. I think it would have been difficult for Rolls-Royce not to enter that and sustain a relevant product lineup across all segments,” concluded Mr. Harris.