Your administrative assistant may be driving a MINI Cooper or a BMW 3-series in order to enjoy something out of the ordinary. However, if you’re not just a Vice President or perhaps even Managing Director in an investment bank, but rather a real big-shot on Wall Street, the next hot vehicle to own could be another arrow in BMW’s brand quiver: The Rolls Royce Cullinan.
What is the Rolls Royce Cullinan? It is the first Rolls Royce SUV which becomes available in the second half of 2018.
There are suddenly a few expensive and high-end SUVs on the market today. Here are some examples with approximate starting prices:
Bentley Bentayga, $230,000
Lamborghini Urus, $200,000
Range Rover Autobiography, $142,000
Tesla Model X P100D, $142,000
Mercedes G, $124,000
Volvo XC90 Excellence, $105,000
Maserati Levante Trofeo, price TBD but a loaded non-Trofeo can be $105,000
You will note that only the Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) is built in the U.S., with the others by “European” brands. I say “European” because even though most of them are built in Europe, one is owned by the Chinese (Volvo) and others (Maserati) have significant U.S. development and technology influence. FCA (NYSE:FCAU) owns Maserati, and if you look at the infotainment system in the Maserati, you will recognize it from every Jeep in the market today. It’s excellent, by the way.
Bentley and Lamborghini are inside the Volkswagen Group, where you will also soon find the Audi Q8, which will of course be positioned slightly below this rarefied air, even though I suspect you might be above to equip it to the $100,000 point. In addition, some of these models start from $124,000 to $142,000 but can be equipped considerably higher.
Some of these ultra-luxury SUVs are more geared to sport: Maserati Levante and Lamborghini Urus come to mind as being able to drive at high speed around a track on a sustained basis, even though the Tesla X is the one-shot 0-60 MPH speed King. Range Rover and Mercedes G have the most off-road capabilities. Volvo XC90 Excellence is heavily geared to the (Chinese) CEO who will be riding in the back seat all the time.
For all the exclusivity of those models, however, you will not be the only resident of Jackson Hole, WY, to own one. You might just see a few of them parked at the club or restaurant. That’s just the way it goes in this sub-$300,000 SUV market these days.
In order to cure that kind of pedestrian disease, the BMW (BMW) Group is now launching the antidote to mere $100,000 - $300,000 SUV luxury proliferation. The 2019 Rolls Royce Cullinan is expected to start around $325,000 and could top $400,000 with appetizer and dessert added to the tab.
It would be unfair to compare the Rolls Royce Cullinan precisely to one of the other ultra-luxury SUVs on this list, for the price alone puts it in a separate stratosphere. However, I will make some mild analogies.
In terms of the back seat, the Cullinan is very much geared to the luxury along the lines of the Range Rover and Volvo, but it has coach doors that are almost as unusual as the Tesla’s “Falcon Wing” doors. Presumably, the Cullinan’s doors are a lot more reliable.
The leathers and other interior materials take what Bentley and Range Rover started, and build on top of the plush and exclusivity. Perhaps the most interesting is the exterior design. All the others except for the Mercedes G are attempting some form of modern “soap bar” design with all sorts of rounded corners, for aerodynamic efficiency.
In contrast, the Rolls Royce Cullinan is very much as square as the Mercedes G, except that it’s much larger and so much more geared to the rear seat passengers. There is something very 1920s about it, and I suspect not without good reason.
The 1920s were an age of prosperity and abundance on and off Wall Street. We are now yet again living in such a Golden Era.
When you see a Volvo XC90 passing by on the street it’s hard to tell whether you’re looking at the $105,000 version or $49,000 one. Range Rover? It’s not obvious whether it’s the $88,000 version or the one that’s $208,000. The Bentley? Kind of looks like an Audi Q8 or even a Q7.
Tesla Model X? You can get one for under $100,000, and besides they’re as common in Silicon Valley as a Honda Accord or Toyota Prius.
At $325,000 and (way) up, the Cullinan offers little in the way of compromise. It won’t match the Mercedes G in all off-road metrics, if for no other reason than it’s longer and wider. However, it will have a wading depth of 21 inches, which is an inch more than the all-electric Jaguar i-Pace crossover-SUV, which starts at $70,495 and can be equipped to a hair above $90,000.
All that said, the Rolls Royce Cullinan takes the competitive differentiation into one yet additional dimension. It’s not just enough to hit all the capability, performance and comfort specs. When you are spending over $325,000, you don’t just want to be the best. You want to be unique, and have that uniqueness show.
That’s where Rolls Royce embraces its “Bespoke” program more than any other luxury automaker. The Rolls Royce buyer has so many homes, planes and boats, that he or she takes pride in designing their own world around them. Sometimes, that means putting very personal touches on their toys.
That can mean something as obvious as an exterior color, but it’s in the interior where the true action often resides. The materials and their combinations, can make an interior look, indeed -- very unique. It’s like a home. Unlike many homes, the exterior of a car is constrained by various safety and other regulatory laws, so your options can be limited to color and wheels.
The interior, however, has fewer constraints of that nature. You can pick any leather or textile, any wood or other exotic material. In the ceiling, you can get it to look like the stars in the sky, if you don’t want glass and any special ability for that glass to manipulate the perception of the outdoor reality.
Some Rolls Royce buyers travel all the way to the Goodwood headquarters in England, to pick out and design all of these elements. Maybe the leather on the glovebox needs to match a particular purse or handbag. Maybe the humidor needs to look just right, to match the future owner’s home collection. If that’s what you want in your SUV, then the Cullinan is your SUV.
In those types of cases, only imagination sets the ceiling for how much money to spend. That $325,000 will turn into $500,000 soon enough, and it can go much higher. Then again, that’s not all that much money for the kind of buyer who owns multiple $10+ million homes and has other toys that float and fly.
In that sense, the Rolls Royce stands alone as the Lion King of the SUV jungle. It sets a new pinnacle, while at the same time looking back to the very large and very square vehicles of the 1920s. The SUV for the Roaring 1920s is back -- one century later. And it’s still a Rolls Royce.
Bespoke or not, the Cullinan will not go un-noticed.
Disclosure: I am/we are short TSLA.
Additional disclosure: At the time of submitting this article for publication, the author was short TSLA. However, positions can change at any time. The author regularly attends press conferences, new vehicle launches and equivalent, hosted by most major automakers.