Commentary: "The Rolls-Royce of SUVs"

All photos courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

It is now a reality – the Rolls-Royce of SUVs.

Rolls-Royce debuted their latest addition to their growing line of automobiles – the Cullinan. For three years, the bespoke British brand and member of the BMW Group announced it would make this vehicle. A series of videos shot in Scotland, the United Arab Emirates, Colorado and Utah relentlessly teased us by showing its capabilities in these regions.

From prototype to a real-life model the teasing is over. The "high riding" Rolls-Royce Cullinan is set to go on sale. All with a 562 horsepower 6.75-liter V12, suicide doors, and off-road capability to boot.

It brings up a lot of old and new questions. Do we need another ultra-luxury SUV? Do we need another SUV, period? Why should Rolls-Royce offer one?

Let me work these questions backward. First, the reality of the marketplace had dictated that Rolls-Royce would be best served by offering the Cullinan. Bentley and Lamborghini already have their SUVs lined up at showrooms around the world. They are attracting the same kind of demographic that would want a Cullinan.

This is not a matter of "why not us." Rather, it is a necessity that the market is dictating. Rolls-Royce stated that their customers wanted an SUV. The Cullinan addressed this response with one that offered all of the brand’s tenets in design and luxury while offering capabilities never exhibited in a Rolls-Royce since the first ever model over a century or so ago.

As for the need of another SUV, again I point to the reality of the marketplace. Ford made it clear that SUVs will be the core of their business going forward. A loss in sedan and hatchback sales for a gain in SUV and truck volume – on a one-to-one basis.

Rolls-Royce is not going to eliminate car lines for the Cullinan to take its place in their showrooms. That would be a ridiculous move on their part. The Phantom VIII is already causing quite a stir among the ultra-luxury set. The Cullinan could be the "volume" leader in Rolls-Royce, even if they match sales with the Ghost, Wraith, and Dawn.

There could be the scenario where Cullinan sales could eat into Ghost sales. Understand that Rolls-Royce volumes are low, but they retain sustainability in producing all five lines of vehicles for the brand. However, expect the Cullinan to add sales volume rather than cannibalize current numbers.

These scenarios have been stated before in many different ways. To analyze – or over-analyze – the justification of producing the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is to absolutely miss the point of doing so.

You probably read or heard the term “because they (or we) can.” Why do Fiat Chrysler Automobiles still make big rear-drive cars with 707 horsepower and beyond? Why did Alfa Romeo create a line of Quadrifoglio models that include their SUV product, the Stelvio? Why do we need more Audi Sport models for every line of vehicle?

The answer will be the same when asking why Rolls-Royce is producing the Cullinan now. It is audacity at its highest level. It is also worth celebrating.

Under BMW, Rolls-Royce was given a massive shot in the arm and a clean canvas to create vehicles that tie the past, present, and future together. The Phantom VII begat a successful line of vehicles that have specific purposes and intents fitted with an air of excellence expected from the Spirit of Ecstasy.

All of the above answers the first question. There is room at the top of the food chain. It is not just a single market that sustains the ultra-luxury automotive segment. The USA is the leading market for Rolls-Royce, but it also has a customer base the world over. The Cullinan was created for all markets in mind, which will give it the equity it needs to compete with Bentley and Lamborghini.

Consider the success of the Bentayga. You had an entire demographic and customer base hungry for a bespoke SUV. Bentley leveraged its corporate gatekeepers to create the vehicle in the first place, which enabled the brand to market it as it was their own. The same situation helped Lamborghini to produce the Urus – corporate assistance with an emphasis on brand identity above all.

One would observe the same for the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. BMW provided a lot of engineering, mechanical, and technological assistance to shape the lineup we see today. What we’re seeing a fully realized brand that was given the license to move forward and create new opportunities for Rolls-Royce worldwide.

The Cullinan will yield many reactions. There will be dropped jaws, the popped eyes, the cooing…all of which Rolls-Royce hope there will be mass quantities of. Yet, there will be hate. Some people will not only question the vehicle and its place in the market but will provide their own answers to those same questions.

Let me talk about haters for a moment. Last weekend, I took the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio to a meet on Saturday morning. It certainly received a lot of looks from the crowd, even though there were other "exotics" that drew more attention. Even moving it to the European section of the show, it also received plenty of looks – and commentary. People mispronouncing the name, providing what’s wrong with the car, and other idiotic verbiage. I’m sure these are semi-mature young adults whom may know a thing or two about this car. I also think that sometimes ignorance is bliss…

Which is what I fear coming out of the debut of the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. There could be a misinformed slew of social media commentary that will try to discredit the work Rolls-Royce put into this SUV. This is what everyone is up against when a new product debuts – or, anything the automotive media does.

For me, the Cullinan is a reflection of what the market wants starting at around $325,000. It is a Rolls-Royce for today. Let us celebrate this debut and see how it does for its intended market.

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