The All Electric Phantom

The Rolls-Royce Phantom Experimental Electric has been an object of fascination for motoring enthusiasts since its debut. Globe Asia takes a test drive in the world’s first fully electric luxury car. Rolls-Royce has been building its range of petrol-guzzling cars for more than a century and has spent a lifetime refining the product to become a near-silent prestigious beast on the road.

With a changing world, Rolls-Royce is looking to the future, one in which roads are governed by CO2 emissions limits. The world’s most widely recognised luxury car manufacturer is asking itself the all-important question: What are the alternatives?

The British automaker, part of the BMW Group since 2003, revealed its all-electric $3 million 102EX Phantom Experimental Electric car at the Geneva Motor Show in March. The car’s mere presence created a buzz: It is the first of its kind in the luxury segment.

Rolls-Royce, who say they have no immediate plans to put this car into regular production,  have audaciously embarked on a one-year, invitation-only road show. From Singapore to Tokyo, and to China (where a Rolls-Royce is a wealthy man’s prerogative), to Dubai, through Europe and to the US (where a Rolls-Royce is a star among celebrities), the 102EX will be subject to critique by clients and the media as the automaker gauges responses to its creation.

Singapore is the 102EX’s first stop, and is where the PEAK gets its first look at the 2,720 kilogram car, along with the regions dealers and a handful of clients, many of which, I am told, are from Indonesia.

The Goodwood 360 Art Space exists temporarily in a shipping container yard in Singapore. Out front, against stacked containers, the 102EX is an attractive sight dressed in Atlantic Chrome paintwork, with the trademark Spirit of Ecstasy statuette bathed in blue light.

Inside the space we meet and greet a few of the company’s gifted craftsmen. Alex sketches with a light hand the bespoke extras clients might request such as a picnic basket or matching luggage set. Alex, who studied automotive design, also contributed to the 102 EX’s unique design features, including the distinctive power plug-in socket, highlighted with blue lights.

In the leather department there is Tim, who explains the rigorous inspection and colouring process each hide goes through before lining the car’s interior. In a Ghost, Tim explains, approximately 11 full hides are needed to complete the interior, and up to 20 in a Phantom.

There are 12 colours from which to choose, but customers may request any shade from a palette of 45,000; this includes a woman who asked that her Rolls-Royce match the colour of her favourite lipstick.

Jolian is a wood expert trained to spot even the slightest imperfection in the car’s veneer finish. He explains in great detail the process undertaken to preserve the natural grain of the wood, which is then “book-matched” to flow like a mirror image across the dashboard and throughout the car. This is a truly unique element of every Rolls-Royce, as no two wood panel interior are alike.

Mark, a sign writer before joining Rolls-Royce, is a coach-line painter – a highly skilled, patient individual who applies finishing touches to the car’s body with hand-painted lines or detail: “I get satisfaction from these lines,” he says simply.

Before the car is delivered to the customer it undergoes a series of tests that includes a shaker rig to test suspension, a monsoon test to ensure there are no leaks, and a “rolling road test” to test the car’s functions and performance. The process comes to a close with a five hour polish and, finally, a set of Teflon-covered umbrellas that are slipped into the door frame.

After introductions, which includes a sneak peak at an extended-wheelbase Ghost, expected to hit the market in 2012, the day progresses naturally, from a run in the Ghost, to a Phantom, and then to the main event, the 102EX.

A limited range?

The car itself is bafflingly brilliant. It is beautiful. It drives seamlessly and almost silently as it gathers speed and glides down a Singapore highway at night. People stare, but not all realise what they are staring at – the one-and-only electric Phantom currently in existence.

Put simply, the engineers have taken the Phantom and dropped a 96-cell lithium-ion battery pack with a single-speed transmission where the Phantom’s 6.75-litre V12 petrol engine would normally sit. It is the largest battery ever fitted to a passenger car. A pair of electric motors sit above the rear axle instead of a fuel tank.

The engine’s activity, silently, produces 290kW (390 horsepower), 800Nm (nanometer) torque. The car accelerates from stationary 100 kilometers per hour in under eight seconds. The Phantom, in comparison, produces 338kW (450 horsepower) with maximum torque of 720Nm: Impressive, to say the least.

A few of the most controversial debating points about this vehicle is its range, battery life and  re-charging. Testing has led Rolls-Royce to conclude that the EX 102 has a range of up to 200 kilometres – descent but still leaves room for improvement. How a heatwave or blizzard might affect that, the team has still to discover.

To recharge, the car can be plugged in to a power source via a five-pin socket. A single-phase full recharge takes 20 hours, or there is a three-phase system of eight hours. the battery is said to last approximately three years. On this tour, Rolls-Royce are also testing another piece of technology – induction charging – essentially a wireless charging system where the car is parked over top a “transfer pad”.

On the dashboard all of his translates into a set of dials. The fuel gauge is replaced by a battery-charge indicator. The power reserve dial shows the level of power remaining at the driver’s disposal. A regeneration symbol conveys the degree of recharge taking place as the vehicle is in motion.

For the sake of identity, and to celebrate the car, Rolls-Royce developed Atlantic Chrome paint for the 102EX.  The paint uses “ceramic nano-particles” that are, say Rolls-Royce, 1,000 times smaller than normal metallic paint particles. The effect, after 16 coats, is a striking silver-blue surface.

On the day in Geneva, a few months ago, when this innovative piece of engineering was revealed, many were content simply to be aware of its existence. Rolls-Royce, however, were not.

The company’s commitment and the investment it has made in the car says much about its positive attitude, while its desire to send the vehicle around the world to assess its performance in every climate, on all terrains while under the eye of numerous critics, says even more about where Rolls-Royce stands in the world.

Many would agree that the 102EX is as magnificent, mind-boggling and comfortable as you could ever expect a Rolls-Royce to be.

Published on August 28, 2011 in Jakarta Globe newspaper.

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