I used to fancy myself in one of these.

The “Coffee Spill” Test

When I reached legal driving age (it might have been before that), my Dad took me out for a lesson in our 1977 Chevrolet Classic station wagon. (That’s it parked in the driveway with me shoveling snow, below.) I remember him sitting down in the passenger seat with an open cup of steaming-hot coffee, quite possibly from Tim Hortons (former Canuck here). “No spills,” he specified. This, it would turn out, was his way of teaching me how to drive smoothly.

Me shoveling snow like a typical Canadian. That’s the 1977 Chevrolet Caprice station wagon parked on the driveway.

I don’t know if I passed the “coffee spill test” or not. I do know that it’s not just the driver but the vehicle that determines the outcome. For instance, our station wagon was definitely not as smooth a ride as a Rolls-Royce, in which achieving a passing grade would have been both much easier and far more luxurious.

Take the Phantom. It’s got a 6.8 L V12 with 560 horsepower under the hood and weighs 5600 pounds, more than a white rhino, the largest surviving species. #googledit Unlike the rhino, the Phantom can carry you very comfortably through the English countryside while enjoying high tea –sans spills– pampered by “the world’s finest A-grade leather,” “lambswool floormats that cosset the feet,” “hand-crafted wood veneers,” and so much more. Oh, and it costs almost half a million bucks. (The white rhino: Priceless. 🦏)

Luxury as excess

In short, Rolls-Royce is overengineered for luxury. And that’s kind of the point: Wealth is a proxy for power. If you can afford a Rolls-Royce, the very fact that it so excessive in this way signals to the world that your wealth and power are excessive, too.

Admittedly, that’s largely why I used to like the Rolls-Royce brand. Not aesthetically –I much prefer the lines of a Porsche– but symbolically: I fancied myself sitting in the spacious back seat munching on blueberry scones while being chauffeured about town like an aristocrat. Always driven, never the driver! 🎩

If the luxury-as-excess definition doesn’t sound stupid now, it will. Sooner than most of us probably realize, people will look back at our pursuit of it (let alone its attainment) and wonder how we could have been so irresponsible, partly because it has contributed to the disruption –”change” is far too passive a term under the circumstances– of our climate and life within it. 

For many people, perhaps especially the younger set, the current definition of luxury already seems irresponsible. This has certainly contributed to Rolls-Royce’s loss of relevance.

Consider these statements from their website:

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of going against the grain. So reinvent the wheel. Disrupt the norms. Rip up the rule book. Phantom will be there for the ride.

Do you see the irony?

If brands like Rolls-Royce really care about the future, then luxury must be disrupted and reinvented. Indeed, the only sure way to mitigate climate disruption and/or avoid its implications is to innovatively engineer solutions. If we fail, then some day soon the comfort that comes in knowing that future generations can enjoy a quality life on our planet will be a luxury that is irretrievably out of reach. This is what needs to guide the new definition of luxury, not just for brands like Rolls-Royce, but the world. We all must participate in order to pull it off.

The new luxury: Knowing that future generations can enjoy a quality life on our planet.

Which brings us back to how Rolls-Royce can become relevant again. Here are 3 suggestions to get you started.

Rolls-Royce: Driving For A Future

  1. Re-focus your (over)engineering efforts: It’s pretty hard for a luxury-as-excess brand to go from being, well, all about excess to, say, appealing to consumers’ inner Marie Kondo. On the other hand, if you’re going to overengineer something, help us overengineer a future for life on this planet. 🌎 (Mars is a separate discussion, Elon Musk.) That’s the new luxury.
  2. Adopt a new brand slogan: While writing this article, I came up with “Driving For A Future.” I chose “Driving” because Rolls-Royce Motors makes cars (duh) and it emphasizes your commitment to the cause. I chose “For” instead of “Towards” because the latter makes the slogan too long and clunky. I chose “A” as opposed to “The” to emphasize that the future of life on our planet hangs in the balance for reasons just discussed.
  3. Adopt a new mission statement: I came up with “Rolls-Royce is committed to engineering climate-positive vehicles that provide the ultimate in comfort.” Any definition of luxury needs to have comfort as an element. Also, my definition of “climate-positive” is pretty black-and-white: If it’s bad for the climate, it’s not climate-positive. Full stop.

That’s it. Granted, my recommendations are easier said than done. But it’s not like I’m getting paid for this article. More importantly, my proposed brand slogan and mission statement give Rolls-Royce a map and compass to guide their business at every step of the way -product development, advertising, supply chains, financing (e.g. green bonds), you name it. 

Rolls-Royce, if you’re reading this and have any questions, you know where to find me! ✊