Rolls-Royce has confirmed it will produce an off-road sports utility vehicle (SUV), ending years of speculation and opening up a thriving new market to the luxury car maker.
The Goodwood-based company revealed the decision in a joint letter from chairman Peter Schwarzenbauer and chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös, saying that customer demand for such a car had played a major role in the decision.
“Many discerning customers have urged us to develop this new car – and we have listened,” they wrote. “At Rolls-Royce Motor Cars we are uniquely focused on the desires of our customers and are driven by our own thirst to innovate.
“So we have challenged our engineers and design team… to create a different and exceptional new car.”
The new car is a major departure for the company, which has previously questioned whether an SUV would work with the Rolls brand.
As the Rolls announced last month that its annual sales had broken 4,000 cars for the first time, Mr Müller-Ötvös told The Telegraph that the company had yet to make its final decision on whether or not to go ahead.
Speaking at the time, the chief executive said: “The question is not, ‘Is it the right segment?’ The segment in general is a very attractive one and it will grow over the years to come.
“For me the main question has always been, ‘Is it the right segment for Rolls-Royce, does Rolls-Royce fit into that segment, how will we look in the segment?’”
However, the decision to drive on with an SUV opens up a fast-growing market sector for the 111-year-old car company. Recent industry data showed that SUVs represented 12pc of the UK market in 2015, up from 6.5pc in 2009. One global study predicted that SUVs could make up half of all car sales in the long term.
Rolls has yet to begin work on the how the new car will look, saying only that it will be a “high-bodied” vehicle with an entirely new all-aluminium architecture. This means it is likely to be years before it hits the roads – or muddy tracks.
It will also offer “the luxury of a Rolls-Royce in a vehicle that can cross any terrain”, “meet customers’ highly mobile, contemporary lifestyle expectations” and be “worthy of carrying the Spirit of Ecstasy into the future”.
It is also understood that the company is keen to involve customers in the new car’s development to shape how it looks.
Rolls said it was also keen to build on the company’s history with the SUV.
“This car will embody all the values and capabilities that drove our two founding fathers to secure Rolls-Royce’s reputation, early last century, by taking top honours in rigorous overland adventures such as the Scottish Reliability Trials, the London to Edinburgh event and the Alpine Trials,” the company bosses wrote in their letter.
“Rolls-Royces conveyed pioneers and adventurers like Lawrence of Arabia across the vastness of unexplored deserts and over mountain ranges. In other parts of the world including Australia, India and the Americas, Rolls-Royces carried their owners over challenging terrain with absolute reliability and comfort. “History sets our precedent and our future calls us to action.”
Rolls is following other luxury marques into the SUV sector. Several years ago rival Bentley said it would build one, and in January revealed it would be called the Bentayga, after a rock formation in the Canary Islands. Bentley has so far only released teaser images of the car, which is expected to go on sale in 2016.
Jaguar has also confirmed it is moving into the SUV sector, with an announcement in January that it would be launching the F-Pace 4×4, which would create 1,300 jobs at its West Midalnds plant.