Irene Nikkein, APAC Regional Director of Rolls-Royce Talks About The Path To Electrification

As the first fully electric Rolls-Royce ever made, Spectre proves that battery-electric technology has entirely come of age.
text by Anandhi Gopinath
Rolls-Royce Spectre

Rolls-Royce Spectre

That day has finally come – for Rolls-Royce, at least. Although a little late to the EV game, the Goodwood-based marque made its all-electric debut worth the wait. The Spectre is the world’s first ultra-luxury electric super coupé, ushering in the carmaker’s bold new all- electric future. Crucially, it is a Rolls-Royce first and an electric car second: no concessions or compromises in terms of interior space, comfort, performance or ride quality have been made – indeed, all have been refined and augmented by the car’s underpinning architecture and engineering.

In conjunction with the launch of the all-electric Spectre, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ Regional Director for Asia-Pacific, Irene Nikkein, talks to The Peak about the British luxury marque’s journey to electrification.

Rolls-Royce Spectre

Irene Nikkein, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ Regional Director for Asia-Pacific

“The idea of electric cars has been around for a decade now, but the reason we didn’t get into it was because the technology just couldn’t fit what we wanted in a Rolls-Royce,” says Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ Regional Director for Asia-Pacific, Irene Nikkein. “What was prophesised in the 1900s is inevitable, but for it to happen, certain things needed to fall into place. I think we’ve come to a sweet spot in terms of the development in the industry – this is the right time for us to enter the EV game.”

As the first fully electric Rolls-Royce ever made, Spectre proves that battery-electric technology has entirely come of age, and can be successfully deployed at the very apex of automotive excellence, luxury and performance. It also represents an epochal technological and intellectual shift for the marque as, by the end of 2030, its entire product portfolio will be fully electric; by then, Rolls-Royce will never again produce a new model with an internal combustion engine.

Rolls-Royce Spectre

Rolls-Royce Spectre debuts in Malaysia

Although unveiled globally last year, the Spectre was only officially launched in Malaysia recently. Sales across the region, Nikkein says, have far surpassed expectations. “Personally, I’ve noticed that things have changed very rapidly in terms of the appetite for EVs,” she begins. “In Australia, for example, our partners were very reluctant because of their relatively unstructured EV infrastructure. A year later, the appetite has changed. Has this infrastructure suddenly improved? Yes and no, but Rolls-Royce clients don’t always utilise public charging; 80% of the time, it is done at home. Also, our clients almost never have only the one car, so if they need to embark on a five-day road trip with no charging stations, they have options. The markets are evolving, and the tech subsidies are helping too, but it is the growing appetite alongside reducing anxiety has really worked in our favour.”

Then again, as mentioned, this is a Rolls-Royce first and buyers are lining up solely for the nameplate. “Oh absolutely,” Nikkein agrees. “What I found very impressive is the discussions we had with our customers about what they want in an EV. So, when people ask us what is so special about the car, it is the diametrically opposing ideas that contributed to its conception. Clients asked us to make it as Rolls-Royce as possible but, obviously, it needed to be new and full of the latest possible technology, too.

Rolls-Royce Spectre

In the Spectre, the all-electric powertrain takes the signature Rolls-Royce experience – instant torque, silent running and the sense of one imperceptible gear – and enhances it for a new generation of clients. Its ‘Decentralised Intelligence’ system enables free and direct exchange of information between thousands of individual vehicle functions, further elevating the marque’s celebrated ‘magic carpet ride’. And in its contemporary yet timeless aesthetic, it takes the brand’s design language and bespoke capabilities into a new, electric age.

Until Rolls-Royce goes completely electric, the rest of the brand’s petrol-powered cars continue to sell well. “The Phantom is doing exceptionally, and the the Cullinan’s sales are fantastic also,” Nikkein counts down on her elegant fingers. “In Asia, there used to be a bias towards sedans until about five years ago, when the SUV demand equalised things. In the Asia-Pacific region, there is an unspoken desire to have the best if you could possibly afford it – this is why the Phantom is as successful as it is. Buyers want the top-of-the line cars that we offer and they want to drive it – as opposed to only being chauffeur-driven – which is an interesting evolution for us to witness.”

Rolls-Royce Spectre

Irene Nikkein with Anas Zawawi Khalid, Executive Director, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Kuala Lumpur

What is also growing in Asia is demand for the services of Rolls-Royce’s Coachbuild division. The automotive equivalent of haute couture, this invitation-only service allows select individuals to craft an entirely original motorcar — and stake claim in the marque’s legendary history. But while it is growing, progress is somewhat slow. “Asians are a bit passive,” Nikkein says thoughtfully. “It is not about the money, but the creativity in that they need to be inspired and given some encouragement. Western buyers are very clear about what they want, but they are also more demanding.”

As the market in Asia keeps growing, Nikkein has her work cut out for her. The rapidly changing landscape of electric mobility is sure to keep things interesting as well, not to mention the continuous challenge of maintaining the profile of the Rolls-Royce brand. “This company allows me to push my personal boundaries,” she says affectionately. “I joined at the time I did because I knew I could make a difference. I am very brand driven and if I feel like I can make a change, I will put in 200% to do that.”

As one of the most fascinating carmakers in the world, known for its inimitable luxury as much as its intrinsic Britishness, Rolls-Royce presents Nikkein with a lot to learn, and she is all the happier for it. “I enjoy all the interactions I have with all our stakeholders – sitting at the top and working on endless strategies means nothing until you meet people, and you realise what clients want, what the media think. We should be humble and pragmatic enough to make the necessary changes as we know of them, and Rolls-Royce is able and agile enough to do that. The intimacy and immediacy in Rolls-Royce is so dynamic, and the chance to make a difference is an experience that energises me every day.”

This story first published on The Peak Malaysia December Issue.

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