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by Tim Beissmann

Rolls-Royce believes Australia’s seemingly insatiable demand for luxury cars and SUVs could see its first-ever SUV become its top-selling model in our market.

Speaking with Australian journalists at the Shanghai motor show, Rolls-Royce Asia Pacific regional director Paul Harris says Australia’s unique landscape and buying habits are perfectly suited to its forthcoming model.

“I think there are certain markets around the world where SUV will become the key segment,” Harris started.

“Essentially, Australia’s a big donut, everyone lives on the outer perimeter and there’s spider webs going inside and you can go across, but you do need a bit more road clearance and things like that, and that car’s definitely going to offer that.

“And somehow people like that really high-up seating position. We’ve always had it in Phantom, because it’s a very high-up car and a very high-up seating position, but general speaking that’s a car that you’re driven in the back of. This is a car, of course, where we’re going to have the flexibility between the two.”

Earlier this month, Rolls-Royce released images of an engineering prototype for the SUV, dubbed Project Cullinan. The test vehicle features chopped Phantom panels – signifying its all-new, all-aluminium chassis will be much shorter than that of the Phantom – and an uncouth rear wing.

The production version isn’t expected to debut until 2017 at the earliest.

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Harris suggested that, as with the ‘baby’ of the range, the Ghost, Rolls’ SUV would offer something for owners whether they chose to sit behind the wheel or in the second row.

“I think it will be a bit like Ghost in a way where you have a dynamic package where you can make it more driver-focused, or you can have it the more traditional way. I think it’s going to be both because to do anything else would be polarising some of our more traditional clients.”

Rolls-Royce sold 39 cars in Australia in 2014 – up an impressive 144 per cent on the back of the introductions of the Ghost Series II and the Wraith coupe – though total delivery numbers for the first quarter of this year tallied just six cars.

SUVs are big business for a number of premium and luxury brands in Australia. The X5 is BMW’s biggest seller, the Macan and Cayenne are one and two for Porsche, the XC60 leads the way for Volvo, the Q3 and Q5 rank second and third for Audi, likewise the NX and RX for Lexus, while Land Rover/Range Rover sales are currently running at record levels.

Harris admitted Rolls-Royce faced a challenge in defining its new model, but said he had no doubt it was going to be a game changer both in the market and within the brand.

“As far as SUV is concerned, the terms ‘sport’ and ‘utility’ aren’t really Rolls-Royce words. High-sided is the way we’ve described it, so I think we may redefine that segment in a slightly different way, in terms of luxury and being very faithful to the ‘magic carpet’ ride.

“One thing’s for certain: in the super-luxury segment, we will make the best, absolutely. We’re very much looking forward to that.

“It’s going to make a big difference to Rolls-Royce in both its perception and what people see of a Rolls-Royce in the future.”




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