Rolls-Royces were destined to be EVs | Thank Frankel it's Friday

09th February 2024
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

I have spent the last few days driving a Rolls-Royce. Actually, I’m not sure you really ‘drive’ a Rolls at all; the experience is more like guiding it, gently suggesting proposed changes of direction which, after due consideration, it will tend to adopt. In a more sporting car, such an approach would be considered appalling, unacceptable even; in a Rolls, anything else is unthinkable.


You want it to be the absolute opposite of agile and responsive. You want it to feel heavy, a vast cathedral of a car whose slow and stately approach to everything lies at the absolute core of its character. And it is a tradition that the Spectre, Rolls-Royce’s first electric car, is proud to maintain.

First electric car? What am I saying? There was another, a long time ago. And when I drove it, I was sure I could see the future of the company laid out before me. I just didn’t realise it would take over a dozen years to get there.

In private it was called the 102EX, in public the Phantom Experimental Electric and was based on the first generation of BMW-developed Phantoms. And if you want some idea of how far things have progressed in the last dozen years (though not nearly fast enough).

Consider that it had a 71kWh battery, similar to that found in an electric Kia Niro today, which weighed 640kg all by itself, more than a very generously specified Caterham Seven. And on a full charge in presumably fairly ideal conditions, it would take the car around 120 miles if driven gently, which meant about 80 miles in normal uphill and downhill driving. After which it would need to be parked for 24 hours because that’s how long it took to recharge from a three-pin plug.


But all that would change. What would not was the essential rightness of this kind of powertrain for this kind of car. Who cared that it weighed another couple of hundred kilos when the standard car already weighed 2.7 tonnes? What matter was it that its 0-60mph time was a comparatively leisurely 8.1sec or that its top speed was limited to 100mph? In a Rolls-Royce these are not even side issues – they simply aren’t an issue at all.

And the prize? Silent running like a nuclear sub at 50 fathoms with the entire crew holding its breath. As much or as little torque as you want, dispensed at once with the flex of the top joint of the big toe on your right foot. An ability to waft like no car, not even any Rolls-Royce, has ever wafted before. 

I can remember being told to be extremely careful when manoeuvring it near other people because there was every chance they’d simply not hear the near three-tonne silent assassin creeping up, soon to dispatch them to the nearest flower bed. And I can remember that by far the loudest sound inside the car was made by the engine and tyres of other cars as they drove past.


Of course, it didn’t work and the 102EX remained a one-off project. It was clearly before its time and designed more than anything else to test the waters with potential customers. And at the time the resounding view was that it was a nice idea, but the range was hopeless, the recharging even more so and they’d be sticking to their internally combusted V12 if that was all the same to Rolls-Royce. Which it was.

But times change and even Rolls-Royce customers seem to have changed with them. The Spectre has an official range of 321 miles, over 200 more than the 102EX, and can charge from 10-80 per cent battery capacity in little more than half an hour at the right kind of charging station. It’s wildly faster (if that even matters) yet weighs no more. And all that stuff the 102EX did so astonishingly well, the Spectre still does. Yet it is not some whizz-bang prototype made from unobtainium but a standard production model homologated for sale worldwide.

And the point is this: is this is how far the state of the EV art has come in the last 12 years? Actually, it’s come a bit farther – the Spectre’s charging speed limited by its 400V electrical architecture while Porsche and even Kia use 800V systems. So think where it’s going to be 12 years from now. And I know this is a Rolls but the principle applies across the board. Our all-electric future is going to be nothing like as grim as some have been minded to predict and you don’t need a Rolls-Royce to see it.

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