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Gavin Green: why Rolls-Royce shouldn't build an SUV

By Gavin Green

Car Culture

30 October 2012 14:46

Every once in a while, BMW hosts an informal chat between Leading British Motoring Writers and a member of its management board. A year or so ago, we parleyed with Ian Robertson, one-time Rover manager, now done good (he’s head of sales and marketing for BMW, and is probably Britain’s most influential car company executive).

This time the man in the hot seat was new BMW board member Harald Krueger, who has just taken over responsibility for the Rolls-Royce and Mini brands. We were in the Berkeley Hotel, in posh Knightsbridge, and the champagne flowed and the canapés were plentiful and good.

The discussion took rather a surprising turn, though, when one of the Leading British Motoring Writers suggested that BMW should surely one day build a Rolls-Royce SUV? Harald seemed a bit perplexed by this. I was appalled. To my surprise, the other Leading British Motoring Writers all seemed rather smitten with the idea and its apparent commercial logic. They cited booming sales of luxury SUVs, Bentley’s likely entry into the market, Range Rover’s soaring profits etc etc.

The BMW boss, reassuringly, seemed against the idea of a Rolls-Royce SUV

Now 30 years of questioning car company bosses has taught me a thing or two about reading their body language, and I’m pleased to say that Harald’s general demeanour suggested that Rolls-Royce is about as likely to make a 4x4 as it is to enter the equally fast-growing teenage girls fashion market.

Quite why so many other Leading British Motoring Writers were suggesting such an idea – and some were positively salivating at the prospect – is actually quite worrying. Does anyone seriously wish to encourage the birth of an SUV Roller? Aren’t there enough blingy luxury road-only SUVs already, the most reprehensible of which have no all-terrain pretentions at all, despite their jumped-up Jeep style?

Heavens above, the Phantom and Ghost are quite big enough already, without putting them on stilts, squaring off their style, and adding a few more hundred kilos of unnecessary mass. Is any Rolls owner really looking at his Phantom in the garage, and saying to himself, ‘you know, I really fancy an SUV version of this?’ Does anyone want to cross the Serengeti or the Sahara in a Roller? Is it really appropriate for Rolls-Royce to go up against Range Rover?

Besides, that appalling Bentley 4x4 concept car should be a perpetual warning sign to all car makers who are so tempted.

I’m sorry but just because the SUV market is booming doesn’t mean that all makers should plough in like a bunch of luxury lemmings.

Fortunately Harald Krueger seemed to know all this.