Rolls-Royce has created an electric version of the Phantom, called the 102EX, and Green-Car-Guide has driven it; is this the way forward for the company?
For years, Rolls-Royce has been synonymous with large petrol engines, so an electric Rolls seems like a huge departure from tradition. However the company can either carry on with business as usual, or acknowledge that the entire car industry has to create more sustainable products, and take some form of action. It has chosen the latter course, and the 102EX, or the Phantom Experimental Electric, is the first outcome.
Rolls-Royce is keen to stress two things. Firstly, that the 102EX is not a ‘green’ car. Compared to an electric city car, then they’re correct; it’s not. However compared to a large luxury car that would struggle to manage 20 miles per gallon, then a Rolls-Royce with zero tailpipe emissions is, in our book at least, a green(er) car.
The second thing is that the 102EX is not imminently on sale. It is designed purely as an experimental vehicle that will now be shipped around the world to gauge reaction from Rolls-Royce owners – as well as enthusiasts, members of the public and the media. So what on earth are they likely to think, and how does the 102EX drive?
Despite being electric, everything about the car says it is a Rolls-Royce – in other words, a very special car. The exterior is similar to a conventional Phantom. However differences include the highly reflective special ‘Atlantic Chrome’ paint colour (featuring 16 coats of paint in total), the Spirit of Ecstasy on the grille looking as though she’s made out of crystal or frosted glass rather than metal (it’s actually made of Makrolon, and illuminated in a blue LED light), and there is a recharging point housed in the rear pillar, replacing the normal fuel-filler cap.
Inside, in the area that most people will experience – the rear of the car – the added bonus is that there is no drivetrain passing through from the engine to the rear axle, so the floor is completely flat.
From the driver’s seat, the overall experience is still very much Rolls-Royce, but in keeping with all electric cars, there is no traditional engine start or accompanying noise, and no traditional gearbox. The 6750cc V12 petrol engine has been replaced with a lithium ion battery pack and two electric motors mounted on the rear sub-frame. These motors are connected to a single speed transmission.
The Phantom EE battery pack houses five modules of cells, a 38-cell module, a 36-cell module, and three smaller ones of ten, eight and four arranged to resemble the overall shape of the original engine and gearbox. The battery pack weighs 640 kg.
Three separate charger units (3kW each) are fitted to the battery, which allow both single-phase (20 hours) or three-phase charging (8 hours). An induction charger is also fitted to enable wireless charging, a technology being trialled in the Phantom EE – allowing recharging to take place without any physical connection.
Induction charging requires a transfer pad on the ground that delivers power from a mains source, and an induction pad mounted under the car, beneath the Phantom EE’s battery pack. Power frequencies are magnetically coupled across these power transfer pads.
So how does all this technology feel in a Rolls-Royce? Moving away from standstill is, as you would expect, a very quiet and smooth affair, and also one that feels as though there is sufficient power. This should be the case, as the electric motors deliver a huge 800 Nm of torque – more than the standard Phantom, which delivers ‘only’ 720 Nm.
Driving the 102EX on a straight road is a very satisfying experience. When confronted with having to negotiate a corner, the weight of the car, which is just short of three tonnes, becomes very evident. Combined with suspension that is designed to give a comfortable ride rather than keep the car flat through bends, you are definitely left with a car that feels heavy through corners.
The weight of the car also presents a challenge to give it sufficient performance using battery-electric technology. The result is that the car can accelerate to 60 mph in under 8 seconds, and go on to a limited maximum speed of 100 mph. It has a range of around 120 miles.
The 102EX has the silence and levels of torque that you would expect from a Rolls-Royce, but rather than being due to any special engineering of the internal combustion engine and soundproofing, this is a natural result of the battery and electric powertrain. Rather than make you question the suitability of electric power, the car makes you feel that such a method of propulsion could be ideal for Rolls-Royce.
Will the limited range put off potential buyers? Well that remains to be seen. Undoubtedly some customers will want the ability to travel long distances. However there seems to be a real potential market for an electric Rolls-Royce. Take the recent Royal Wedding. There were a number of limousines that travelled just very short distances – it’s likely that they could cope with a relatively limited electric range, while offering the benefits of zero emission and zero noise.
Other operators of limousines such as hotels in cities around the world, especially as many cities are likely to adopt zero-emission legislation, may also find that such a car suits their needs perfectly well.
An issue that Rolls-Royce is working on is the life of the batteries. The company believes that the current technology may only give the batteries around a three-year life – for a car that is likely to cost well over £200,000, this is obviously an area that needs to be improved.
So an electric Rolls-Royce actually makes sense from a number of perspectives. It is extremely quite, refined, and smooth. For use in urban areas, it has zero tailpipe emissions – and lower running costs than a petrol-powered Rolls – although this is unlikely to be a main priority. Making a statement about sustainability is likely to be more important for potential customers. We would be surprised if Rolls-Royce, along with most other manufacturers, didn’t introduce some form of electric vehicle in the coming years. In the meantime the Phantom EE is likely to generate a lot of energy in the area of debate, on the special website that Rolls-Royce has set up for people who want to provide feedback on the car, at www.electricluxury.com