For more than 90 years, the rich, famous, and beautiful have been ferried to their special occasions inside Rolls-Royce Phantoms. The car epitomizes imposing elegance, a status symbol that signals, “I’m loaded, but I’m also very classy.” On Thursday, Rolls-Royce unveiled its newest version of the Phantom, a four-door, $500,000-dollar sedan. The car’s design illustrates the balance Rolls-Royce must strike to make the vehicle feel new, innovative, and personalized—worthy of its half-million-dollar price tag—while also maintaining connection to its storied eight-generation lineage.
The general state of the luxury goods market further complicates things. “Wealthy buyers are placing a strong premium on more emotional and personal priorities: travel, food, adventure, and family,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, which tracks high-end spenders. The challenge for Rolls is to incorporate those spending behaviors into the car’s design.
Making the vehicle stand out is a matter of throwing wide the suicide doors. “If you said to me, ‘What finally defines this Phantom?’ I’d say, ‘Please step inside,’” says Giles Taylor, Rolls-Royce design director.
The feel is “slightly edgy of its time, but not beholden to its time,” says Taylor. That rules out a Tesla-style giant touchscreen. And the Rolls interior has to feel exclusive, so no replicating the health and wellness monitors that respond to drivers’ moods, which Mercedes installs in top-end models.
Rather, Rolls’ approach is to install something called the “Gallery.” That the feature’s term borrows from museum nomenclature is no accident. The Gallery covers the entire central expanse of the upper dashboard with toughened glass, and carves out a three-dimensional display shelf behind it—72-inches wide and 6-inches in tall. The perfect place to install, well, anything you want. You can’t get much more personalized than that.
The Rolls Royce design team and craftspeople at the company’s British headquarters are standing by with some posh ideas for buyers, should they need them—or they’re happy to create installations from scratch. For instance, the company’s most dignified customers might choose to festoon their Gallery with a family crest laser-etched in platinum; a miniature landscape of an ancestral manse fashioned from Austrian porcelain; an abstract wing rendered in feathers and laser light; or a burst of precious gemstones refracting the aurora borealis.
Automakers love this level of personalization because—surprise!—they command hefty price tags. Rolls expects each new Phantom owner to spend almost $100,000 on individual details alone. The company offers Rolls-Royce staples like book-matched burl walnut veneers and preternaturally smooth animal hides, but also novel options like black pear and grey oak woods, outrageous carpet color palettes, even satin and silk seats. The company sees its Gallery as a new way to enhance its up-sell.
Now, personalization isn’t a new concept for cars. Pre-war Rolls-Royces were delivered as a rolling chassis to a coach builder, to fit a custom body. The intro of assembly lines standardized things, but now technology means cars can be given bespoke touches with relative ease. “With the digital production we have now, we can make it very individual, but produced in a high industrial quality,” says Thorsten Franck, an industrial designer commissioned to build Gallery concepts. Well into the 21st century, that process gives the Phantom some continuity.
Here’s the best news for those who can’t drop half-a-mil on a car: In the automotive world, what starts as a high-end option often trickles down to the mass market. Watch out for 3D-printed, dash-adorning, family crests at a dealership near you.