Plugging into the future
Gulf Business|November 2020
One of the biggest revelations for the luxury auto industry this year is that going electric is no longer an option – and it must be done now.
VARUN GODINHO

Where the sovereign wealth fund of one of the richest countries in the world chooses to pump in over $1bn, rest assured there is a bountiful harvest to reap. In 2018, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund backed California-headquartered Lucid Motors – a relatively new American company which is now baiting one of the world’s most valuable carmakers, Tesla.

Lucid isn’t just shooting its lip. At its helm is Peter Rawlinson. Remember the Tesla Model S? It’s impossible not to, considering it has become the most successful electric sedan manufactured to date. Rawlinson was the chief engineer on that car, and reportedly a confidant of Elon Musk.

“It’s a testament to the vision of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to the vision of the Public Investment Fund that they have the foresight to invest in the future of not just mobility, but the future of energy and energy use,” Rawlinson tells Gulf Business, while adding, “and to recognise that oil will not be there forever. This is a very shrewd move on the chessboard for them.”

A study by Allied Market Research suggests that the electric segment is expected to record a compound annual growth rate of 9.7 per cent from 2019 through to 2026. Carmakers have scrambled to electrify their fleet. The Porsche Taycan is a full-electric car, Mercedes EQS is in the advanced stages of being realised, and Audi recently showcased its Q4 Sportback E-Tron concept.

But while the future of the luxury auto sector will undoubtedly belong to electric cars, the present is dominated by ozone layer denting internal combustion-powered machines. Take, for example, Rolls-Royce – a 116-year-old marque that still has a minimum of 12 cylinders in a car. It’s a carmaker that shifts the goalpost from electric to craftsmanship around its wood, paint and leather – all of which the Goodwood manufacturer has excelled in. “At Rolls- Royce, there is no full-option car – it doesn’t exist. There is always something more you can do with a Rolls-Royce,” says Mamdouh Khairallah, general manager, AGMC at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in Dubai.

“When it comes to us in the Middle East, our most expensive Phantom was in the range of $4m. We had one car we built in the factory where we crushed diamonds into the paint. The price of the paint alone was almost Dhs1.5m.”

But even Khairallah agrees that it is impossible for the luxury car industry – Rolls-Royce very much included – to ignore the writing on the wall. “The future is electric cars. Internal combustion engines will not sustain the future. Rolls-Royce engineers are busy at work on future electric cars.” Stunningly, even Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös said during a television interview in January that Rolls-Royce will transition to electric this decade and will become a “pure-electric propelled” brand in the long-term.

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