During this week’s global media launch of the hugely capable, all-new Rolls-Royce Cullinan in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the company’s CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, talked to us about a range of topics, including electrification, appealing to younger buyers, the case for a smaller Cullinan, and that love-it or hate-it styling. But with an order book overflowing for the next 12 months, Müller-Ötvös knows that his controversial decision to add a high-luxe SUV to his model lineup was the right one.
How important is Cullinan in growing the Rolls-Royce brand?
Enormously important. Our clientele is changing. It is getting younger and younger. Many are high-net-worth individuals who have made money early in their lives through smart business moves. They have been asking us for a vehicle that is more practical, more versatile, more capable. A vehicle that is effortless everywhere yet one that still offers uncompromised luxury.
Many of these buyers are waiting anxiously to take delivery of a new Cullinan. What are your plans for production?
The first customers will take delivery at the beginning of next year. Right now we have a very nice-looking order bank; if you place an order today, it would be the end of 2019 before you would take delivery. So roughly one year. And we are not prioritizing markets. It is first come, first served.
How important is the U.S. market for Cullinan?
The U.S. is our biggest market, and Cullinan will certainly keep it that way. In addition to our traditional southern markets—California, Texas, and Florida—we know the all-terrain, all-weather versatility of Cullinan will appeal to buyers further north, especially in Canada.
In the same way the Ghost sits beneath the Phantom in the range, are there plans for a smaller Cullinan?
No, I think we are set. I’m very happy with our current portfolio of Phantom, Ghost, Wraith, Dawn, and now Cullinan. Right now we have no plans to move into a smaller-size segment to lower our price position just for the sake of volume. Of course, my basic principle in life is to never say never.
The big elephant in the room is the polarizing styling of the new Cullinan. How do you answer those critics who have questioned the boxy, high-roofed design?
Styling is a very personal thing. The vast majority of our customers love the lines and have shown their approval by placing orders. Remember that a taller roofline means greater headroom and a more spacious cabin, which are key attributes for Cullinan buyers. It also means a more-elevated driving position and more glass for better all-round visibility. That said, we know we can’t please everyone.
You have said that every new Rolls-Royce will be fully electric by 2040. Will Cullinan be the first to have electric propulsion?
We haven’t made that decision yet—or when the first electric Rolls-Royce will go into production. But know we are working on it. Electrification is going to be hugely important for us, not only for legislative reasons where you might see city centers being closed off to combustion engines, but also for attracting younger customers. Electrification is also a perfect match for a Rolls-Royce. It is silent, delivers lots of power, torque, and waftability. We just need to ensure we deliver sufficient range, and that should be above 300 miles. One thing we won’t do is use in-between technology, like hybrid. We will go straight to electric.
Has your customer profile changed with the Cullinan?
Buyers who have put down deposits so far are generally split between existing Rolls-Royce clients adding a Cullinan to their garage and completely new customers to the brand. These buyers are interested because this is the very first practical and versatile Rolls-Royce you can easily drive every day, year-round, on and off road. It offers ample space to load luggage in the back and a rear bench seat that folds electrically. It truly is the Rolls-Royce of SUVs.