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Kate Zerrenner headshot

Rolls-Royce Unveils Its First EV, Pledges to Go All Electric By 2030

By Kate Zerrenner
Rolls-Royce EV

The Rolls-Royce Spectre test car is wrapped with buzzphrases like "noiseless and clean" and "when it does not exist, design it." 

BMW-owned luxury car maker Rolls-Royce has announced the launch of its first electric vehicle, to be released in 2023. The luxury vehicle, called the Spectre, will only be the first — the company plans to be fully electric by 2030.

Enthusiasts have long awaited an electric vehicle from the company, having been teased as far back as 1900 by co-founder Charles Rolls when he test drove an electric vehicle and told Motor-Car Journal it was “very noiseless and clean … no smell or vibration.” He followed that up by saying the charging technology was “many years” away. The company stated in a press announcement that it would release an electric car “only when the time is right and every element meets [our] technical, aesthetic and performance standards." It seem that time has now come.

The Rolls-Royce announcement follows new vehicle requirements in the U.K. 

In late 2020, the British government announced an end to the sale of all combustion-engine cars starting in 2030. The announcement is part of the U.K.’s decarbonization plan and will take place in two steps, with the 2030 phase-out as the first part. Following that, the next step will require all new cars and vans to be zero-emission at the tailpipe from 2035.

The government also announced more than 1.8 billion pounds (about $2.5 billion) in investment for charging stations and support for additional infrastructure needed to enable the transition to fully electric private vehicles. According to the government’s announcement, the idea is to make charging your car or van “second nature and a part of everyday life, just like charging your mobile phone is today." In order to realize that, part of the funding will go toward grants for homeowners and businesses to enable charging. Great Britain went a step further in July 2021, announcing a plan to decarbonize the entire domestic transportation system by 2050, making it the first country in the world to do so.

Challenges remain in meeting these targets. Currently only 1 percent of households own an electric vehicle, which means tens of millions of cars will need to be replaced. While demand will drive the price down, EVs are still out of reach for many Britons. A recent government announcement that all new-build homes will be equipped with charging points is an important step, but funding allocated for grants for homeowners to upgrade existing homes may not be enough to take care of all the infrastructure needs.

Training the workforce will also present a challenge, but the government is working to build that into the plan. A Green Jobs Taskforce was convened in November, and by July it released a plan ensure 3 million green jobs by 2030, although there is still some concern about the steps needed to make that happen. Demand will continue to increase for skilled labor to build and service electric vehicles, a trend already predicted by experts. Policy support backed up by public investment, which can spur private investment, are the linchpin in such an ambitious target being met.

EV technology is advancing quickly 

Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds since 1900 when Charles Rolls made his pronouncement. But Rolls-Royce — and its parent company — have a reputation for exacting standards in their vehicles. The image of a Rolls-Royce is more more VIP than Average Joe with a willingness to pay a premium price for the luxury and engineering. But the brand has a long history of interest in electric machinery. Sir Henry Royce was one of the world’s first electrical engineers and made several electrical devices in his career. According to the company, Royce’s internal combustion engine was a forerunner of the electric vehicle: “effortless torque, silent running and the sensation of one continuous, powerful gear.”

As more car manufacturers produce electric vehicles, the technology continues to improve. Batteries, fuel cells, and other technologies that both reduce weight and increase efficiency have received significant investment, especially since the Joe Biden administration has made electrical vehicle announcements of its own in the U.S. Though short of the British target, President Biden announced a goal of 50 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. to be electric by 2030. While those targets are far apart, the U.K. has about 40 million cars on the road and the U.S. has 287 million. The bottom line is: In terms of cleaning up transportation emissions, the more countries that set and meet clean vehicle standards, the better it is for overall emissions reductions.

Why this matters

To some, the announcement of a high-end luxury electric car may seem not only beyond their reach, but also beyond their interest. Rolls-Royce’s entry into the electric vehicle market, however, is a significant development. Money invested in developing the most state-of-the-art electric vehicle technologies will likely lead to those advancements improving the quality of technology across the board.

Further, it continues the upward trend of demand for electric vehicles, which overall drives down the price of the cars. The Spectre may sound like something from the new James Bond movie, but its entry onto the scene means that more options are available for improving the emissions profile of the electric vehicle market.

Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce

Kate Zerrenner headshot

Kate is a writer and policy wonk, with a focus on water, clean energy, climate change and environmental security. She spent over a decade running energy-water nexus and energy efficiency programs at Environmental Defense Fund as well as time at the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and state and federal legislatures. She serves as an Advisory Board member of CleanTX, which aims to accelerate the growth of the clean tech industry in Texas.

Read more stories by Kate Zerrenner