‘Autonomous driving? We’ve had chauffeur-driven vehicles for years’

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Giles Taylor
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The interior of the Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII
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Reveal of the Phantom VIII in Dubai by CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos
Updated 25 November 2017
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‘Autonomous driving? We’ve had chauffeur-driven vehicles for years’

LUCERNE: Giles Taylor has worked on projects such as the Phantom VIII since he became director of design at
Rolls-Royce in 2012. In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Taylor explained the challenges of designing the Phantom VIII, which he says combines “handmade ingenuity” and the latest technology, and Rolls-Royce’s approach to innovation.

Q: What kind of challenges have there been during the design of the Phantom VIII?

A: There was no brief written down; the only brief was another Phantom. The objective was to design a masterpiece and the challenge was how to balance classicism with modernity and keep that sense of timelessness. We needed to understand the historical foundation and then reinterpret it for the future.

Q: How long did the Phantom VIII project take from start to finish?

A: About five years and six months.

Q: I noticed the use of feathers and perishable materials in the Phantom’s “gallery” (the glass-covered art space on the dashboard). How can these fragile materials last?

A: The feathers have been age-accelerated and treated by heat and ultraviolet lights that simulate three years of service. Then we shake them so that the microfibers come free. They become less shiny but they will not disintegrate under hot or humid conditions.

Q: How far along is the production process and when will the Phantom VIII arrive in the markets?

A: We have started production and I think deliveries will start in 2018. Some customers will get their Phantoms in December this year.

Q: Have you received commissions for artworks in Phantom galleries?

A: Yes, we have. The time for delivery for commissioned pieces is going to be about six to eight months. It is similar to bespoke orders, which take about three more months to deliver.

Q: Do galleries come as part of standard specifications or bespoke department orders?
A: They will be offered as an option. So at the moment basic cars come with a lovely silk fabric, which is the standard pattern. Customers can have metal or wood versions or silk. There are five basic galleries that customers can order and they are all beautiful objets d’art.

Q: Where do you get the inspiration and skills needed for these projects?

A: The team we have in Goodwood comes from many disciplines such as textiles, the fashion industry and metalwork. We also have access to craft fairs and other events around the world. It all centers on handmade ingenuity. It is somehow similar to handmade watches. People love these objects and want them; they will pay big money for them.

Q: How do you see modern technology and advances in the industry?

A: It is a genuine opportunity for me. In the context of Rolls-Royce we have had autonomous driving for many years because we have chauffeur-driven vehicles. We also focus on convenience technology in terms of connectivity to social media and personal music. A Rolls-Royce also provides a suitable atmosphere to conduct business on long journeys. As far as electric cars go, they are coming and we are ready for them. The platform of the Phantom VIII is electrifiable. We have a date in the diary for an all-electric Rolls-Royce — and it is within 10 years.

Q: What is next in the pipeline from Rolls-Royce?

A: In July next year we have the high car (the Cullinan SUV vehicle). In the first half of 2018, the car will come to the Middle East and people can order it in VIP private viewings. It will be driven by the media in the summer of next year. On the horizon there is going to be a new Ghost, new Wraith and a new Dawn.

Q: In interior design, is attention given to the back seats more than the front seats?

A: Back seats are very important and we spend more time putting great features there — some for the first time. Back seats provide a cosseted and calm place with entertainment screens, controls within reach and access to drinks.

Q: In the region, VIPs hate to wait long times for deliveries, do you have any advice on how to avoid this?

A: From a design point of view we will embed more bespoke choices in the showrooms so more options can be offered from the outset. With a video link between showrooms and the studios at Goodwood, we can make the process much faster.

Q: Is it true that there will be no other versions of the Phantom VIII such as a drophead or a coupe?

A: There are no plans at the moment for other versions of the Phantom VIII. In the future there may be commissioned versions or special collections but nothing is firm at this stage.


Audi launches electric SUV in Tesla’s backyard, with assist from Amazon

Updated 18 September 2018
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Audi launches electric SUV in Tesla’s backyard, with assist from Amazon

SAN FRANCISCO: German luxury car brand Audi on Monday staged the global launch of a new electric sport utility vehicle on the home turf of rival Tesla Inc, and highlighted a deal with Amazon.com Inc. to make recharging its forthcoming e-tron models easier.
The Audi e-tron midsize SUV will be offered in the United States next year at a starting price of $75,795 before a $7,500 tax credit. It is one of a volley of electric vehicles coming from Volkswagen AG brands, as well as other European premium brands including Daimler-owned Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo Cars and Jaguar Land Rover.
All aim to expand the market for premium electric vehicles and also to grab share of that market from Palo Alto, California-based Tesla, which has had the niche largely to itself.
“I want Audi to be the number-one electric vehicle seller in America over the long term,” Audi of America President Scott Keogh told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who is also head of rocket company SpaceX, planned to mark the e-tron launch occasion by staging a SpaceX event in Los Angeles at roughly the same time on Monday evening as Audi’s unveiling.
Audi and parent Volkswagen are using the US launch of the e-tron SUV in mid-2019 to take aim at one obstacle to expanding electric vehicle sales — the lack of convenient ways to recharge their batteries.
Audi will partner with online retailer Amazon to sell and install home electric vehicle charging systems to buyers of the e-tron, the companies said on Monday. Amazon will deliver the hardware and hire electricians to install them through its Amazon Home Services operation.
Amazon’s partnership with Audi to provide home charging systems is the first time the online retailer has struck such a deal with an automaker, and signals a new front in Amazon’s drive to expand its reach into consumers’ homes beyond the presence of its Alexa smart speakers in living rooms and kitchens.
“We see charging installation as a very important business,” Pat Bigatel, director of Amazon Home Services, told Reuters at Audi’s launch event in San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Center.
Audi executives said home charging stations would cost about $1,000, depending on the home’s electrical system.
Tesla offers wall connectors for home charging at a $500 list price, and will arrange for installation, according to the company.
At the same time, Electrify America, a company funded by Volkswagen as part of its settlement of US diesel emission cheating litigation, plans to launch next year the next round of installations of public charging stations, Electrify America executives told Reuters.
Tesla has developed its own network of Supercharger charging stations with more than 11,000 chargers in North America. Electrify America plans to have 2,000 chargers installed by mid-June next year. Those will be open to any vehicle, and customers can swipe a credit card to recharge.
“We want to work with all” automotive brands, said Giovanni Palazzo, Electrify America’s chief executive.

Lifting the Curtain

Audi has been heralding the launch of the e-tron SUV for some time, but until Monday it had not shared many details of the vehicle.
The e-tron is electric, and has two electric motors — one in the front and one in the rear — driving all four wheels. The Hungarian factory building motors for the e-tron will start with a production pace equivalent to 200 vehicles a day, Audi officials said.
In Europe, the vehicle will use cameras instead of conventional mirrors to give drivers a view to the rear. That feature is still not approved by US regulators.
However, in many other respects the e-tron is a conventional, mainstream luxury SUV. It offers seating for five, and its length and wheelbase position it in the center of the market for midsize, five-passenger luxury SUVs such as the BMW X5. The e-tron is 5 inches (13 cm) shorter than the Tesla Model X, and it has conventional doors. The Model X uses vertically opening “falcon wing” doors.
The e-tron will have an advanced cruise-control system that can keep the car within a lane and maintain a set distance behind another vehicle, but the system will be designed so that drivers must keep hands on the wheel.
Audi officials said they do not have official range estimates for the e-tron SUV under US testing procedures. The e-tron’s 95 kWh battery has less capacity than the 100 kWh battery used in the Tesla Model X 100D model, but more than the base Model X 75D.
The Model X 100D is rated at 295 miles (475 km) of range by the US government.