High Road: Vision of the Future

“Home, James,” has long been the oh-so-British greeting to the suited-and-booted chauffeur when an owner slumps into the backseat of his or her Rolls-Royce. It is probably quite confusing if the driver is actually named Derek.

Fast-forward 20 years to 2036 and, according to Rolls-Royce’s newly revealed vision of luxury mobility, its super-wealthy clientele will more likely be uttering the command, “Home, Eleanor.” And it won’t be to a living, breathing chauffeur, but to what the luxury carmaker is calling an “ethereal concierge,” who will rest inside a glass screen where James once sat.

So why Eleanor? A nod to Mrs. Roosevelt, perhaps? Or Nicholas Cage’s throaty Mustang in Gone in 60 Seconds? No, this is Eleanor Thornton, who back in 1911 posed for sculptor Charles Sykes to become the Spirit of Ecstasy, aka the famous Rolls-Royce Flying Lady hood ornament.

Think of Eleanor as some overachieving version of Apple’s Siri personal assistant. She’ll be your go-to gal to help you control one of the most visionary automotive concepts ever created, a car Rolls-Royce simply calls the 103EX.

But there’s nothing simple about this groundbreaking, quite magnificent car of the future, which fully embraces the likelihood that, come 2036, luxury automobiles will be driving themselves and powered not by some honking V-12 but by electricity.

And contrary to the popular image of tomorrow’s luxury cars being dull, anonymous bubbles driving along in bunched-up convoys, Rolls-Royce believes they can be grand, stately, and more decadent than ever.

That’s why this 103EX is huge. Stretching close to 20 feet long and 5 feet tall, it’s roughly the same size as today’s mighty Rolls Phantom. The hood alone measures more than 8 feet, which is pretty extravagant considering the V-12 that would normally fill that space has been jettisoned in favor of a pair of electric motors. Where you’d expect the V-12 to sit, there’s a slide-out compartment for the owner’s luggage instead.

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of this 103EX concept is the passenger compartment, which Rolls-Royce calls the Grand Sanctuary. Inside there’s space for two, because if there’s no need for a chauffeur then there’s no need for front seats, or even a steering wheel.

What you have instead is a huge sofa with enough legroom to accommodate the leggiest NBA all-star. A huge, wall-to-wall glass screen takes the place of the front cabin and offers access to Eleanor, who is waiting to accommodate your every request.

Tell her where you need to go and she’ll take you. Tell her what time you expect to finish dinner and she’ll have the car ready outside the restaurant. And, being the super-organized digital assistant that she is, she’ll remind you of appointments, set up reservations, adjust the temperature, select the music, or play any movie you fancy. Or, if you prefer, Eleanor will simply shut up and let you snooze while the car drives itself serenely and autonomously to your destination.

Being a Rolls-Royce, the cabin is a masterpiece of bespoke elegance. Hand-twisted silk hugs that two-seater sofa, deep-pile ivory wool covers the floor, and dark Macassar wood paneling wraps around the cabin.

Yes, those trademark rear-hinged “suicide” doors are retained, but, in an effort to make getting in and out easier, the glass roof extends open like a clamshell, allowing you to stand up and step out.

And just in case anyone milling around is in doubt of the importance of those arriving, lasers project a virtual red carpet of light as the doors open.

The design team at Rolls-Royce, run by the talented Giles Taylor, stress that this 103EX is just one possible vision of the future. Advanced manufacturing technologies like 3D printing will allow customers to be more closely involved in the design process, dictating the size and even the shape of the car.

Just think of all the fun you could have deciding who should be the voice of Eleanor. In my opinion, only the Queen of England would do.

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