The Rolls-Royce Ghost eschews traditional ideas of luxury in favour of paired-back simplicity and precise craftsmanship. Welcome to a bold new world of 'post-opulence’
The new Rolls-Royce Ghost looks serene under the bright studio lights, its clean shape absent of busy body work and harsh lines. This minimalist theme carries on inside, and is the reason Interior Motives has come to the company’s beautiful Goodwood headquarters.
The original Ghost was launched back in 2009, offering Rolls-Royce buyers a smaller and less lavish choice than the Phantom. With its more modest price tag and character, it quickly became the most successful product in the Rolls-Royce portfolio, allowing the company to boost production and invest in its global presence.
Owners of the existing Ghost provided valuable insights for the design and engineering teams to build on. In the US and Europe, many were driving the vehicle themselves, only opting for a chauffeur-driven ride when essential. Therefore, features such as all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering were incorporated in the new Ghost.
As well as enhancing driver experience, the teams found that they needed to improve on the minimalist feel of the Ghost, with customers seeking a break from busy lifestyles during their journeys.
“Ghost is a very different proposition to anything in the Rolls-Royce stable, and new Ghost is guided by the movement of reduction and simplicity,” explains Alex Innes, head of coachbuild at Rolls-Royce. “This is in direct response to what we understood as the needs and wants of the existing Ghost owner. They told us they are looking to go one step further in terms of scrutinising what they let into their lives. There is a move away from the opulence of old and, it’s in place, there is a modern luxury – a luxury that takes on a notion of whispering and not shouting.”
As with any Rolls-Royce, the focus of the interior is on high-quality materials. 338 panels of leather are used inside the Ghost, and are decorated with intricate stitch work that runs along some of the most visible areas, such as on the edge of the upper dash.
There are two new open-pore wood finishes on offer, bringing character and colour. ‘Obsidian Ayous’ is supposedly inspired by the reds and browns of lava rock, while ‘Dark Amber’ uses aluminium particles inside a dark wood. The woods are used as a feature to draw the eye in several key areas of the interior, such as the central dash area with the air vents and the three bridges on the steering wheel.
“Showing wood in its open-pore form was very important to us,” says Felix Kilbertus, chief exterior designer at Rolls-Royce. “It is so much richer to the touch and allows our passengers to experience the materials better than ever before.”
The main feature of the new Ghost’s interior is the illuminated fascia on the passenger side of the dash. When the interior lights are on, the fascia is lit with 152 LEDs to display the word ‘Ghost’ and 90,000 laser-etched dots. However, when not in operation, the fascia appears as a regular, clean glossy surface.
To achieve this, three layers of composite material are placed on top of each other. The first is a piano-black substrate with the laser-etched word and graphic on the surface. A dark-tinted lacquer layer is placed on top to hide these when the engine is switched off, and the third layer is 0.5mm thick with a high-gloss finish to match the other surfaces.
The development of the fascia took place over the course of two years, and the team spent over 10,000 hours on it. “When we did our first starlight headliner we started playing with subtle ways of emulating natural experiences,” Kilbertus says. “The illuminated dots echo the starlight headliner, and act to tie in the new fascia with the existing roof.”
Above the illuminated fascia sits a narrow, curved piece of leather with a single line of stich work running along it. This stems the entire width of the vehicle, sweeping from the A-pillar to A-pillar above the traditional Rolls-Royce clock, the embedded central touchscreen and the driver’s screen cluster.
The leather strip is a small addition that acts as a border to the glossy fascia and black screens. It tops the dash, bringing a clean finishing line and tying it in with the rest of the leather on the doors and seats.
“These features pose a huge challenge for our craftspeople,” Kilbertus says. “If there is only a single stitching line then if a single stitch is slightly offset then it will be highly visible. So everything our team does has to be absolutely perfect.”
Kilbertus describes the interior as a “detoxifying space with a focus on the intrinsic quality of materials.” The delicate mix of leather, wood and metals are laid bare to encourage touch and ensure the raw material is clearly visible. Details such as the leather across the top of the dash are small but vitally important, encouraging occupants feel the quality of the leather and thereby enjoy a multi-sensory experience.
In order to enhance the calming minimal aesthetic of the interior, the design team worked alongside acoustic engineers to create what Rolls-Royce dubs as a ‘near-silent soundstage’. This started with the bones of the vehicle – the aluminium spaceframe.
Composite damping felts are sandwiched between the two skins that form the bulkhead and floor sections, helping to reduce road noise. In total, 100kg of acoustic damping materials are used in the new Ghost, hidden inside the doors, the roof, the tyres and even between the double-glazed windows. The drivetrain was also adapted. The prop shaft was made more rigid and its diameter was adjusted to minimise road noise. Other areas of improvement included the air-conditioning system.
Not content to simply reduce the noise inside the cabin, the team at Rolls-Royce decided to take it one step further. Each component was “tuned so it shared a common resonant frequency…the seat frames in early prototypes, for example, resonated at a different frequency to the body, so damping units were developed to bring the noise together into a single note.”
Rolls-Royce adopted the term ‘post-opulence’ when describing the new Ghost. The message was that customers enjoy a minimalist and modern approach to design, and so the company moved to achieve this while simultaneously providing a level of luxury and quality that is expected of its vehicles.
And although the luxury element of the car is obvious, reduction and the minimalist philosophy is harder to pinpoint in the new Ghost. The interior is very similar to that of the Cullinan, with the exception of the new illuminated fascia. Subtle changes have been made. The doors in the new Ghost, for example, are made up of just one piece of sheet metal rather than three in the Cullinan. This allows them to be covered by a single, large piece of leather that reaches down to the floor.
“That single piece does all the talking,” Kilbertus says. “When we have such a high level of craftsmanship at our disposal, our job as the design team is to sometimes step back and identify the purest shape to express quality. That’s what we did with the Ghost – find the perfect shape and let the material take the spotlight.”
The idea of ‘post-opulence’ produces a difficult challenge for the team at Rolls-Royce. The brand is not known for products that are discreet, and owning a Rolls-Royce is a strong statement. Therefore, the design team was faced with making a more subtle vehicle while simultaneously making sure the Ghost is fundamentally a Rolls-Royce.
“It is almost a contradiction,” Kilbertus says. “We like to think of our cars as a gallery, space or canvas. So having a clean design language and a specific way of dealing with surfaces and materials that lasts the toll of time. We would like to let the experience take the upper hand over visual entertainment. It’s a very pure and beautiful car, without business, and that’s the effect we wanted to achieve. It is meant to be a refuge away from the madness. There is room in the Rolls-Royce portfolio for truly opulent cars, such as the Cullinan and the Phantom, both of which are big statements, but the Ghost is something else.”
Head of design: Adrian van Hooydonk
Head of exterior Design: Felix Kilbertus
Exterior designer: Henry Cloke
Head of interior design: Marc Girard
Interior designer: Chris Duff
Head of colour and trim design: Ute Wellershaus
Colour and trim designers: Barabara Romberg, Julia Reinke,
Sina Maria Eggl
UX team leader: Ulrike Schafmeister
UX designer: Corinna Exner
Head of bespoke design: Gavin Hartley
Design project manager: Marcus Koschyk
Project started / completed: 2015, 2018
Text: Michael Nash