Does a 6,000-pound, $3 million land yacht represent the vanguard of eco-conscious driving? Believe it. Dan Neil on the experimental Rolls-Royce 102EX and the intersection of high luxury and low carbon. An electric Rolls-Royce? Ridiculous! Stupid, even. Why would anyone who could afford a Rolls-Royce Phantom—an asphalt-trenching railcar of luxury and privilege, a $400,000 automotive bugger-off to the world—care about the price of gasoline?
Because people have assorted motivations in their automotive purchases, and it turns out the wealthy are people too. Indeed, the ROI calculus becomes increasingly subtle as the price of the car goes up. Do you get your return on investment when you buy a Bugatti Veyron? When, precisely? Is it at that moment when you’re streaking down the road at 250 mph, which is to say, never? Sometimes people buy hyper-luxury cars because they represent the leading edge of a technology that they themselves will never actually exploit; sometimes they buy cars that balance a desire for luxury and performance with the buyers’ desire to be seen as enlightened and socially conscious, and thus the coming raft of wicked luxury-sport electron burners. If it seems unfathomable to you that the ultra-rich might feel such contradictions, then I suggest that you are not among them.
The Rolls-Royce 102EX is an experiment, a caprice, a trial balloon if your balloon happens to be the Graf Zeppelin. It was built primarily to gin up some ink for the company at the Geneva Auto Show in March, where otherwise the firm didn’t have much to talk about. It was built in less than a year, using off-the-shelf parts adapted to an existing Phantom chassis, and is technically un-optimized. The car has neither the range (nominally 125 miles), the acceleration (just under 8 seconds to 60 mph) nor the top speed (100 mph) of the twin-turbo V12 Phantom. And it is, as the Brits might say, a bit dear: The cost to build the prototype was $3 million.