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Rolls-Royce thinks autonomy could take us back to the good ol’ days of design

Rolls-Royce Sweptail

There is hardly a limit to how much well-heeled buyers will spend on a car when it’s entirely custom-made. Rolls-Royce perfectly illustrated that trend last year by introducing the Sweptail (pictured), a one-of-a-kind model designed to an anonymous enthusiast’s exact specifications. It cost $13 million. You would think such a car rarely comes around, but the company confirmed it’s working on a second bespoke project.

Rolls-Royce design chief Giles Taylor told British magazine Autocar that the yet-unnamed model will be revealed in the “near future.” While the Sweptail is a one-of-one car, Taylor hinted the upcoming project won’t be quite as exclusive. The brand will cap production in the low single-digits. Each one will be unique.

Tailor-made cars represent an increasingly large part of Rolls-Royce’s business. Autocar learned over 100 designers, engineers, and customer liaison agents work in the brand’s bespoke department. In a way, it’s an interesting and unexpected return to the company’s roots. Early in the 20th century, a vast majority of cars were one-offs equipped with a body made by one of the countless coach-builders operating in Europe and abroad. Panel beaters painstakingly punched each body into shape by hand, a technique Rolls-Royce is considering bringing back.

Rolls-Royce Sweptail

“It’s the future of luxury. People don’t want something others can get. They want something very unique. We’ve invested quite a lot in this. Bespoke is very important — without it, we wouldn’t sell as many cars,” explained company boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös. But while the company is renewing ties with the craftsmanship techniques of the last century, it’s also looking ahead to the future. 3D-printed body panels could give customers an even broader scope of customization, according to the executive.

Autonomous technology promises to open up more possibilities for the bespoke department. An autonomous car doesn’t crash, at least not in theory, so it might not need to comply with pedestrian safety regulations. Müller-Ötvös believes autonomy could lead to more creative designs. “It could bring the old era back,” he added.

Taylor didn’t reveal when we’ll see Rolls-Royce’s next project. We caught our first glimpse at the Sweptail during last year’s Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance, a prestigious annual event held on the shores of Lake Como near the border between Italy and Switzerland. This year’s edition starts in late May, and it’s not too far-fetched to speculate that’s when the car will break cover. Don’t lug a chest full of cash to Italy, though, as nothing is official, but we imagine each car has already found a home.

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