The genteel world of ultraluxury auto sales erupted into mudslinging this month at the Geneva auto show as Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin clashed over interpretations of the future of the superluxury sedan.
It started when Aston's design chief, Marek Reichman, declared in an interview with Britain's Autocar magazine that Rolls-Royce and Bentley were "ancient Greece" with their traditional three-box design of vehicles such as the Phantom and Mulsanne. Instead, Reichman declared, the future is with Aston Martin's Lagonda, a long-dormant brand reinvented as an electric-only brand and represented at the Geneva show by the sensual Lagonda Vision Concept.
Enraged, Rolls-Royce boss Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes hit back in the Financial Times, saying Aston Martin had "zero clue" about how to sell to ultra high-net-worth individuals and then accused "other car brands" of stealing elements of its 2016 concept imagining a zero-emission future: the 103EX coupe.
For the Lagonda concept, Aston Martin maximized the interior space and shrunk the length by positioning the batteries under the floor, something CEO Andy Palmer said was possible because the platform was electric-only. "I'm sure [Rolls-Royce and Bentley] are going to continue to sell gasoline-based vehicles, which means their future platforms have to consider both, which is a compromise," he told Automotive News.
Rolls-Royce chief designer Giles Taylor said size reduction wouldn't be a main goal of any future electric sedan. "I love the presence and grand gesture of the Rolls-Royce," he said on the sidelines of the show. "The big boulevards of America need to be filled."
For now Lagonda lags far behind Rolls-Royce on brand presence.
"Modern luxury is an oxymoron. There has to be a richness to the story. Lagonda is essentially a startup," said Sam Livingstone, director of automotive design consultancy Car Design Research. "But it's a measure of its success that it has rattled Rolls-Royce."