Test drive: The Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII

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Updated 22 October 2017

Test drive: The Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII

LUCERNE: Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII was this month driven by world media, including Arab News, in one of the most scenic regions in Europe in the Swiss Alps and around Lake Lucerne in Switzerland.
Since its debut in 1925, the Phantom has been the ultimate expression of luxury in the motor industry and the eighth generation scales new heights of beauty and power. The experience of driving and being chauffeured in a Phantom is memorable — especially as the world had to wait 14 years for this eighth generation to emerge.
The new Phantom VIII will arrive in world markets at the beginning of 2018 and some orders will shortly be on their way to the Gulf region.
Prices start at SR1.95 million ($520,000).
The new Phantom is the most advanced Rolls-Royce ever. With a new, almost silent, 6.75 liter twin-turbo V12 engine, the Phantom is an oasis of calm. It has a new aluminum architecture and air-suspension that gives it a Magic Carpet ride.
One unique feature of the new Phantom is “The Gallery” — an unprecedented concept which allows patrons to commission a work of art to be displayed inside the car’s glass covered dashboard.
A few weeks before the media launch, Rolls-Royce unveiled the new Phantom in London with examples from the seven predecessors — all owned by historical personalities. These included models owned by Queen Elizabeth II, Fred Astaire, John Lennon, the Aga Khan and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.
The new aluminum frame, dubbed “architecture of luxury” by the company, is 30 percent more rigid than that of the previous generation. This frame delivers more ride comfort, acoustic calm, seat luxury and interior sense of space.

Silence and comfort
Some extraordinary effort went into making the new Phantom “the most silent motor car in the world.” Two-layer 6mm glass was used all around the car; more than 130 kilos of sound insulation and sound-absorbing materials were included; double-skin alloys were also added to the floor and bulkhead of the space frame; and “silent seal” tires with foam layers isolate road noise and allow for quiet conversation within the car.
A further comfort feature is the “Magic Carpet Ride.” Suspension makes millions of calculations every second as it continuously varies the electronically controlled shock absorber adjustment system — reacting to body and wheel acceleration, steering inputs and camera information. In addition, the stereo camera system integrated in the windscreen to see the road ahead, adjusts suspension proactively rather than reactively up to 100 kilometers per hour. At this high speed, Phantom is 10 percent quieter than its predecessor.
The V12 direct-injection engine provides 563bhp of power and 900Nm of torque at a low 1700rpm. The new Phantom can reach 100kph speed in 5.4 seconds and its top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. In a combined cycle the Phantom achieves 29.1mpg and its CO2 emissions are 319 g/km.
As the most technologically advanced Rolls-Royce, the new Phantom carries such features as active cruise control, night vision assist, collision warning, pedestrian warning, cross-traffic warning, lane departure warning and a high-resolution head-up display. It also has the latest navigation and entertainment systems and a WiFi hotspot.
According to Giles Taylor, director of design at Rolls-Royce, “Phantom is the epitome of effortless style.” Taylor integrated the new Phantom’s grille into the surrounding bodywork, resulting in a cleaner flow of the iconic exterior design. A new headlamp design uses the most advanced laser technology that casts light well over 600 meters down the road.

The driving experience
The only choice in a Phantom is to drive or be driven. Entering the car is an occasion in itself. After settling into a back seat, you can close the door with one button automatically. The occupant finds himself cocooned in the finest materials and transported into a serene environment. Only a few people would be lucky enough to sit in the back of a Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII.
Rarer still are those luckier to have a chance to drive the car. Even in the most affluent part of Switzerland, the Phantom turns heads in the streets like no other. Although, Phantom VIII can outperform most cars on the road, it is most appreciated at low speeds. Owners of Phantoms do not rush to catch up with anyone; rather, others wait for them to arrive.
Phantom drivers have command of the road and respect of other car drivers. When Phantom stops for a pedestrian to cross the road or waits for a car to pass, the appreciation turns to gratitude and admiring looks (for the Phantom, not its driver).
Driving a Phantom is a unique experience in any location; an experience for the lucky few who can express their status through their cars and their tastes in selecting the artwork to place in their dashboard “galleries”. Owners will have to wait a few more weeks for that experience.

INTERVIEW: Dan Balmer on steering Aston Martin beyond Bond in the Middle East

Dan Balmer
Updated 17 November 2018

INTERVIEW: Dan Balmer on steering Aston Martin beyond Bond in the Middle East

  • The Middle East will be a key market for the iconic UK car maker’s second century, says regional chief Dan Balmer
  • Aston has been around for more than 100 years, but has embarked on an ambitious “second-century strategy” under group CEO Andy Palmer

The name is Balmer. Dan Balmer.

The new president of Middle East business for Aston Martin Lagonda, the iconic British car maker beloved by James Bond, is grateful for the glamorous legacy of the fictional super-spy, but also conscious of the need to move on.

“We’ve been with Bond for 50 years, and he has been a real asset for us. But we have a team internally called ‘Beyond Bond.’ If we want to grow the brand audience, into the family and female markets, we have to look beyond the cars that Bond drives,” said Balmer.

That move away from some aspects of Aston’s heritage is reflected across the whole company. Aston has been around for more than 100 years, but has embarked on an ambitious “second-century strategy” under group CEO Andy Palmer.

The company that is emerging will be different, a luxury brand rather than a mere maker of fast boys’ toys; it will be increasingly global, with the Middle East playing a central role; and it will — hopefully — be sustainable, in both a financial and environmental sense.

British actor Roger Moore stands beside an Aston Martin car during a 'James Bond photocall' at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, on October 17, 2008. (AFP)

Palmer’s strategy is to steer the group away from the boom-and-bust cycle — it went bankrupt seven times in its first century. He pulled off an essential part of that strategy with an initial public offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange last month, which valued the company at $5.6 billion.

Aston will continue to make fast cars, but they will increasingly be more fuel efficient and even electric; and it will put its name to other luxury merchandise — plans for apartments and speed boats are well advanced. Next on the luxury list of Aston-branded items are submarines and vertical take-off aircraft.

Bond, with his love of both the high life and high-tech gadgetry, would probably approve of the strategy. “We’re not hawking the brand around — you won’t see us doing aftershaves and umbrellas. But customers want to buy our cars because they want to buy into beauty, and we’re stretching that now into other areas,” Balmer said.




1976 Southampton, UK.


Design technician apprentice, Rover Group.


•BMW design engineer.

•Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, general manager in Asia-Pacific. 

•Aston Martin Lagonda, president for the UK and
South Africa.

•Aston Martin Lagonda, president for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.


He knows a thing or two about luxury marketing and car design, having previously worked for Rolls-Royce in Asia, based out of Singapore. But now the challenge is to extend the Aston business in the Middle East in a new division within the global set up — covering the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT).

Reflecting Aston’s traditional regional business hub in the region, he will be based in the UAE, but the headquarters has been moved from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, where the MENAT HQ was officially inaugurated last week.

Balmer feels that Dubai’s reputation for flash glamor is “a thing of the past,” but also believes that the UAE capital is more in tune with the Aston image. “Aston has an understated elegance and that is also how we feel about Abu Dhabi. It is the capital, recognized as the center of the financial scene, the big decisions are made here, and with Yas Island (the venue for the big Formula 1 Grand Prix later this month) it is a great location for motor sports.”

The Aston Martin DB10, built exclusively for the James Bond film "Spectre," is displayed at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, November 19, 2015. (AFP)

Track racing is still a big thing for Aston, not least because many of its cars are too fast to be driven flat out on roads, but also because it helps the company maintain its high-speed image against competitors such as Ferrari and Lamborghini, the UAE’s sports cars of choice.

Under the second-century strategy, Aston can offer the DB11, the DBS (“a boot in a suit” says Balmer), the Vantage and the Valkyrie as its “overtly aggressive” cars to rival the Italians, and will also soon begin to produce a range of mid-engined cars to take on the likes of Porsche and Mercedes.

Saudi Arabia is big on collectors’ cars, like our Vulcan. But we need to grow the brand.


“We are breaking out of our conservative shell. These are track-based products, but meant to be driven on the road, true sports cars,” Balmer said.

But the really radical product is yet to come, and will figure prominently on Middle East roads when it arrives, some time in 2020. Aston has hitherto held off entering the SUV market, which is the fastest-growing sector in the world’s biggest markets, like the US and China.

The DBX is a luxury SUV, a bit bigger than most on the roads now, with five doors and elegant lines. It is aimed at the upmarket family market, and seems a natural fit for the Middle East, which has been SUV-crazy for decades. 

Balmer thinks it will become Aston’s biggest seller in the region. “We just have not had the offering in that segment before, but in the Middle East a majority of luxury car buyers would be SUV, with sports cars a weekend plaything,” he said.

In this file photo, an Aston Martin DB5 is displayed as part of an exhibition dedicated to James Bond at the main hall of La Vilette in Paris. (AFP)

He is relishing the prospect of unleashing the DBX on Saudi Arabia. Aston has been in the Kingdom a long time, with a long-standing partner the Hajji Husein Alireza group and showrooms in Jeddah and (more recently) Riyadh, to be followed by an outlet in Alkhobar.

But Saudi Arabia has not lived up to the potential of its big wealthy population. It ranks behind the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar, roughly alongside Turkey in Aston’s regional sales rankings.

“Saudi Arabia has more opportunity for us. Because of the sheer weight of wealthy individuals it means there are more people who will buy our cars there. Saudi Arabia is big on collectors’ cars, like our Vulcan, and the other beautiful cars we produce like Vanquish and DBS. But we need to grow the brand,” Balmer said.



“We need to do an education job in Saudi Arabia, both in terms of what Aston stands for in the market and the new products as well. I think Saudis will go for the idea of DBX, and that’s where the key focus will be for us.”

He believes the Saudi market is perhaps more conservative than the UAE in terms of colors and models, but there is potentially a far bigger market among Saudi nationals than Emiratis.

Saudis buy Rolls-Royce cars in big numbers, and having worked for the leader in motoring luxury Balmer appreciates the difference between marketing Rolls and Aston. “They differ in the customer type. Aston buyers tend to be really into their cars. They are ‘petrol heads’ but also discerning.

“Rolls customers know their cars too, and might have an Aston in the garage as well, but they’re buying a Rolls-Royce as more a statement purpose — for business use, or a reward in life. An Aston is more a purchase of emotion and desire,” he said. Whether as a reward or out of emotion, buying an Aston is a considerable outlay. The average price ticket is around $175,000, and such an impulse purchase could easily be put off if personal economic circumstances took a downturn.

In the Middle East, where economies are tied to the oil price, that makes Aston subject to the vagaries of the global crude market. “What’s happening in the region is that governments are diversifying away from oil. (Saudi Arabia’s reform program) Vision 2030, for example, is a big change and good news for us. It will eventually take the volatility away from the macro economic environment. But we will always be dependent to some degree on global economic forces. China now drives the rest of the world in many respects,” Balmer said.

The IPO was an opportunity for Aston’s long-term backers — financial institutions from Italy and Kuwait — to realize some profits on their investments. The share sale raised no new money for expensive research and development, which some analysts criticized.

“There was no massive cash injection because all our new projects were already invested. And we’re making profits. But the IPO secures the long-term future of the company,” Balmer said.

In difficult global markets, the shares have been trading below the issue price since day one, but recently two big investment institutions — Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs — put them on the “buy” list. If they achieve sufficient value to be included in the main FTSE 100 list, Aston will be the first car company for 30 years to be on the UK’s main trading board.

That would be something of a triumph for Palmer and the second-century strategy, but Aston has another finishing line in sight before that: The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “We’ve got a number of things planned around the race, not least winning it,” Balmer said.