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The Rolls Royce of SUVs - Cullinan, is here

Iconic British super luxury carmaker Rolls Royce on Thursday took the wraps off its first ever Sports Utility Vehicle, Cullinan, marking a major milestone in its 114 year history.

Sumant Banerji   New Delhi     Last Updated: August 2, 2018  | 22:17 IST
The Rolls Royce of SUVs - Cullinan, is here

Iconic British super luxury carmaker Rolls Royce on Thursday took the wraps off its first ever Sports Utility Vehicle, Cullinan, marking a major milestone in its 114 year history.

Often referred to as the benchmark for luxury worldwide, Rolls Royce had first stated three years ago that it wanted to build a high bodied all-terrain vehicle answering the call of billionaires worldwide who wanted an SUV in their garage. Like most other Rolls Royces, Cullinan, named after the largest diamond ever discovered, is well beyond just expensive. At a starting price of $325,000, expect it to cost upwards of Rs 5 crore in India. When it lands, it would be the most expensive SUV in town.

Powered by a 6.75 litre twin-turbo V12 engine that delivers 563bhp and 850Nm of torque at a low 1600 rpm, it has a top speed of 250 kph. An all-new all-wheel drive, all-wheel steer system and built from scratch suspension gives it a wading depth of 540 mm to enable it to tackle any terrain.

"The launch of a new Rolls-Royce model is always a seminal moment in the luxury industry," said Torsten Muller-Otvos, Chief Executive Officer, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

"Today we are setting a new standard by creating a new class of motoring and motor car for customers who are well-connected, highly mobile and have a global perspective. They want a new type of motor car that gives them unbounded access in ultimate luxury. Their sense of adventure and daring demands a "go-anywhere in ultimate luxury" motor car that will both take them to and meet them at the pinnacle of life. Cullinan is that motor-car."

Rolls Royce is not the first, nor will it be the last of the super luxury carmakers to bite the bullet and create an SUV - something that was considered an anathema till a few years back. Traditional wisdom said ultra high net-worth individuals prefer ostentatious chauffeur-driven saloons or thoroughbreds made-for-the-track sports cars over the all-terrain capability of an SUV. That is however no longer the case. Years of stagnant or single digit growth in sales in the industry - a legacy of the global recession of 2008, has prompted almost all the big super luxury car makers to look at an SUV to attract the attention of younger customers. From arch-rival Bentley to Porsche, Jaguar to Aston Martin, Lamborghini to Maserati everybody now has an SUV in their portfolio. If at all, Rolls Royce is only a tad late. In 2017, it delivered 3,362 cars to customers, a decline of 16 per cent over 2016, and the lowest in a year since 2010.   

"The label SUV is now applied to anything with a two-box silhouette and the least suggestion of going off tarmac," said  Giles Taylor, Director of Design, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.  "We envisioned an authentic, three-box high-bodied all-terrain car with a convention-challenging design and absolute capability that would satisfy the adventurous urges of our clients."

Like its competitors, Rolls Royce would be loath to suggest there is one for it,  the Cullinan seeks to broaden its appeal beyond core consumers and bring in younger customers. The puritans may baulk at it but the momentum seems to be building for these super luxury SUVs. The first lot of 3,500 units of Bentley's Bentayga for example, which went into production in 2016, was sold in advance. Even with an increased production capacity it continues to carry a waiting period of over 24 months in some markets. Already, it is Bentley's best-selling model by some distance.

"There has always been an interest in SUVs from ultra high net worth individuals," says Ian Fletcher, who has in the past worked with Jaguar and Bentley and is now a principal analyst at research and consultancy firm IHS Markit. "However, it has only been in recent years that brands synonymous with luxury have embraced this category."

According to IHS, in 2014, 14,900 units of super luxury SUVs were sold. As Bentayga and Maserati Levante hit the roads, sales grew to 26,750 units in 2016. By 2020, the numbers are expected to swell to 40,000. Cullinan would make its own contribution to that.

The next bastion to fall, is Ferrari.

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