What a bumper year for the SUV segment it has been. It wouldn’t be complete without the Rolls-Royce of the motoring industry, Rolls-Royce itself, dabbling in the market with an entrant of their own. And boy, is it everything we imagined – with some bells and whistles on the side.
Approaching the 5.3 metre-long behemoth feels like walking up to a small tank, which will sink its ride height by up to 40mm to allow easier ascent. The hefty doors pop open with a subtle, satisfying hiss to reveal the luxurious cabin we’ve come to expect. (more pictures at end of article). Here, clients have the option of swapping out the usual lounge-style, two-seater configuration for a family-friendly three-seater layout, dropping the centre console which houses a drinks cabinet.
On the outside, several features that hint the Cullinan is more than ready for off-roading catch my eye (more on that later), but I still can’t picture myself risking the paintwork of the world’s priciest SUV (currently) on anything less than sweet Singapore asphalt. I sit down with Paul Harris, Rolls-Royce’s APAC Regional Director to see if he can change my mind.
AM: Why an SUV, and why only now, in 2018?
Paul Harris: The ’40s through the ’80s was really boom time for luxury sedans. The actual SUV market has only been redefined since the late ’90s. Now the Sports Utility Vehicle – first of all, from a Rolls-Royce perspective, none of those terms really apply. Sport, utility – it’s not really (just) a vehicle so in a way we’re really defining our own subset of it. But the term SUV – it’s for ease of understanding and to help people visualise immediately what (the Cullinan) means.
I think for us we just took our time. And it had to be right for us. I think what happened is – we had customers coming to us interested in the Ghost in 2012 and 2010 – and they asked: what next? I have SUVs in my garage, but (Rolls-Royce) doesn’t have an offering for me. Can you do something for us?” And we did.
Yes! Plenty. Look at the customers, and terrain, in our region. We have quite a bit of – well, maybe not just here in Singapore, but in the greater APAC region – many of these markets are subject to more monsoon, and subject to a mixture of road conditions; Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines.
Well, if you could coin an acronym to accurately classify the Cullinan – ditching the convenient “SUV”, what would it be?
Just to be very Singaporean – I might call it lor.
Luxury off-road (LOR). *table guffaws*
Let’s be honest. People are not necessarily going to use it – in the majority of cases – in that way. But they like to understand that it has the capability should they require it. If you’re going to watch horse-racing and it’s going to get a bit muddy, you’re know you’ll be able to get out of that farmer’s field – and that’s the capability the car has, in oodles. We’ve tested it at such great extremes, and are very pleased with (what we’ve built.)
Still, my first thought when I heard the news was: If I go off road with it, (could I bear to risk) scratching it? What’s in the Cullinan to alleviate these concerns?
On the side – see this silver lining? It’s called a Saxon spear by the designers. It is relatively easy to change, and gives the car a degree of protrusion. What this means is that – if you are going to damage it, well, you’ll damage that first on that side, for example. There’s also adjustable ride height (a variance of 40mm either way), and (the brand’s first) all-wheel drive for better turning radii.
Brendan Mok (Corporate Comms): This level of scuff protection is a first (for Rolls-Royce) – there’s plenty of it on the front and rear, and it’s made from much tougher material. It’s also easily replaceable.
PH: So we did take that into consideration.
Where does Singapore stand, globally, in terms of demand for Rolls-Royces?
We don’t really measure it in such terms across markets. For us, it’s all about individualisation and the ability to react to demand based on bespoke reactions. (Don’t forget, a Macau-based tycoon shipped 30 red Phantoms to the island just last year – and he had to wait 2 years for delivery.) All I can say about Singapore is: for us it’s what we’d call a lighthouse market.
That means – as it beams, the lighthouse flashes around the rest of the region, and people look to it for guidance, particularly in the movement of luxury, and what’s happening out there in the luxury world.
So you know, in the same way you have fashion (capitals) around the world who people look to. Singapore’s now appearing more on (that map) more frequently- as commonly as Tokyo, for example.
And of course, I know the Singapore clientele quite well. The market is very transient – there’s people coming in and people going, so it’s refreshing and exciting from that perspective, and I find that quite exciting. Other markets are more traditional, but there’s a vibrancy here that perhaps other markets don’t have so much.
Well, what about the future? Think this will this be the last Rolls LOR we’ll ever see?
I think we have to be responsible – we never say ‘never’ to anything. Is it the last Rolls-Royce? I think it completes the Rolls-Royce lineup for the time being. I don’t think that there’s a (way) for us to look beyond where we are now – purely as a matter of (production) capacity. If we are to maintain our levels of bespoke, we will always have that capacity issue, because craftsmen are hard to find and hard to train – and you can’t do ‘product efficiency’ a bespoke creation.