October 24, 2015 - 12:01 am ET
Design chief Giles Taylor chuckles when asked whether Rolls-Royce took the new Dawn convertible to any consumer clinics before the design was approved. "No, no, no. Does Chanel clinic its handbags?
"At the pinnacle end of the luxury market, the brand values are so particular and so carefully honed over a period of years -- in our case over 114 years of history -- we do not need to ask a number of customers, 'Do you think we are doing the right thing? Is this the right shape?'"
Rolls-Royce doesn't launch new cars very often, so when its Dawn convertible debuted at the Frankfurt auto show last month, the brand and its new design chief were cast into the limelight.
The Dawn, with its sensual lines and flowing body, is the third car on the smaller platform that was introduced with the Ghost sedan in 2009. It is the first model that bears the signature of Taylor.
The Dawn shares underpinnings with the two-door Wraith fastback that went on sale in 2013. The big difference is the Wraith is strong and masculine while the Dawn soft-top convertible is softer, Taylor said. The Dawn goes on sale in the U.S. in the second quarter of next year. Pricing for the U.S. hasn't been announced, but it's expected to be upward of $300,000.
Taylor joined Rolls-Royce in 2011 as head of exterior design and took over the top job in July 2012. Taylor says he and his team "finished" the Wraith that was started by his predecessor, Ian Cameron. Taylor knows how to design sexy cars that turn heads. He previously was at Jaguar for 14 years and designed the XJ sedan and the XK coupe and convertible.
Taylor also is working on a Rolls-Royce crossover due in 2018 that's been described as a high-bodied car and the replacement for the stately Phantom sedan that debuted in 2002.
The Dawn shows the direction Rolls-Royce can take to appeal to a younger buyer who appreciates high technology and a less formal car.
"Dawn comes into this slightly younger era with more fluid movement and brings more people to our brand," Taylor said, quickly adding: "I wouldn't call it feminine. Wraith loosens the tie, but with Dawn you do not need a tie to drive the car or to be seen in a Rolls-Royce."
'Move things forward'
On the other hand, Rolls-Royce can't continually hark back to its past or do retro-design, he said.
"It has to be an instinctual approach to form language that comes with responsibility to evolve design language and move forward," Taylor said. "We are not looking back to solutions. We want to move things forward and to bring a modern edge to the brand to be relevant and contemporary. That is our vision for the future at Rolls-Royce."
The Dawn's softer design illustrates a more relaxed, less staid look. The fabled Rolls "waftability" -- the sense of riding smoothly on the air -- is prominent, and also will be so on the crossover, or in Rolls-Royce vernacular, the high-sided vehicle.
The crossover design hasn't been approved yet, and Taylor admits, "I can't tell you how close we are."
Nor can he say how far along the team is on the replacement for the Phantom. The flagship car will use an aluminum spaceframe that the crossover and all future Rolls-Royce vehicles will use.
The Phantom has presence, is "well-mannered" and quickly recognizable, especially because of the massive grille, Taylor said. In fact, customers say, "Do not kill the Parthenon," he said, referring to the grille. "There is the grille, and everything comes from the back of it."
Redoing the Phantom "is a huge responsibility," he added, because of its status as the car of royalty and wealth.
"Ferrari can go modernize; it is a prancing horse. Jaguar Land Rover can go modernize," he said. "I have more of a challenge."