LONDON -- Rolls-Royce will show potential customers its new SUV in "closed-room" events starting this summer as the automaker prepares to join Bentley and Lamborghini in the newest ultraluxury segment.
The SUV, codenamed Cullinan, has been testing on Germany’s Nuerburgring track. Engineers are finalizing the handling of a car that Rolls-Royce promises will be "effortless to drive everywhere."
The Cullinan is expected to push Rolls-Royce's annual vehicle sales past 5,000 a year. The company sold 4,011 cars in 2016, its second-best result, but last year sales dropped 16 percent to 3,362.
The SUV will be the second model to be built on Rolls-Royce’s bespoke aluminum platform, following the new Phantom.
The platform is unique to the brand, an important point for customers, CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvos said last year at the Phantom's launch. “We are not using mass-manufactured body shells. That limits what you can do on the design side, and it undermines exclusivity massively,” he said.
Rolls-Royce customers do not want a camouflaged Audi Q7, he said, referring to the Bentley Bentayga, which uses a Volkswagen Group platform shared with the Q7 and Lamborghini Urus, among others.
The Rolls-Royce SUV is expected to use the same twin-turbocharged V-12 engine as the Phantom sedan, which produces 563hp.
Rolls-Royce is expected to unveil the SUV in late summer. Sales will start near the end of the year with deliveries beginning in 2019.
The company has avoided calling Project Cullinan a crossover or SUV, describing it as an "all-terrain, high-sided vehicle."