A founder who predicted modern EV adoption, and another who was a pioneering electrical engineer – Rolls-Royce has a spark-filled history despite its reputation for superb cars and engines
Goodwood, UK – Rolls-Royce will announce its first full-production, all-electric car later this week and in anticipation of that, it’s hyping up its surprising electric heritage. In its long history, Rolls-Royce has become famous for ultra-opulence, refinement – and whacking great V12 engines. But here are some surprising facts from the company’s past that are all about volts rather than V-engines.
One half of the founding pair of the company, the engineer Charles Rolls, had an early fascination with electricity. Aged nine, he wired a bell from his bedroom to the stables at his ancestral home.
As a young man, he acquired an electric car – The Columbia Electric Carriage – way back in 1898 and pronounced it one of the best cars on the (admittedly small) market at the time. But while he knew the benefits of electrics, he was also wise to their drawbacks – the need for charging infrastructure.
In April 1900 he told the Motor Car Journal: “The electric car is perfectly noiseless and clean. There is no smell or vibration, and they should become very useful when fixed charging stations can be arranged. But for now, I do not anticipate that they will be very serviceable – at least for many years to come.”
In fact, in 1904 he became the agent for a French electric car brand Contal, but ditched it when he went into business with a certain Henry Royce
Electrical power really took off toward the latter half of the 1800s, and Henry Royce – born in 1863 – had early employment in 1881 at the Electric Light & Power Generating Company (EL&PG) in Southwark, UK. There, took night classes in electrics or what passed for electrical engineering of the time.
Eventually, Royce began his own company making small electrical appliances and moving onto heavier equipment. In 1902, the company supplied motors to Pritchett and Gold, a battery maker that expanded into making electric cars.
Royce’s company fortuned waned after 1900 and Royce then pivoted to another kind of product entirely, the motor car, setting up Rolls-Royce limited in 1904.
The man that brought Henry Royce and Charles Rolls together was Henry Edmunds, who himself was an entrepreneur, electrical engineer, and experienced driver of both industry and automobiles.
While he played no direct part in Rolls-Royce itself, it was he who introduced the pair at the Manchester Hotel on May 4, 1904. He was friends with Thomas Edison, Joseph Swan (inventor of the lightbulb) and setup W T Glover & Company, which would become the world’s leading maker of electric cables.
Here’s what we know so far: The EV will be an all-new development rather than an electrified version of an existing model, and as rumours say it will be named ‘Silent Shadow’.
In keeping with previous statements, Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös, and the brand have previously mentioned that the car would arrive before 2030, be a pure battery electric vehicle (BEV), and will only be ‘launched when the time is right, and every element meets Rolls-Royce’s technical, aesthetic and performance standards.’
The brand’s latest concept the 103EX embodies what a Rolls without a honking great V12 would be like.
A decade ago Rolls showed off its first electric concept, the 102EX, which was based on the Phantom limousine and used as a test bed for an electric future. The 290kW-800Nm electric motor was more muscular more than the 6.75-litre V12 of the time (338kW, 720Nm), but limited range, battery life, and long charge time meant it didn’t become a production reality then
Stay tuned to CarBuyer.com.sg for the announcement on the new car this week.