The Cullinan is conquering the off-road world


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2018)

Lawrence of Arabia said: “a Rolls-Royce in the desert is more valuable than Rubies!” He drove three individually customised Rolls-Royce vehicles during his military operations in the Middle Eastern desert during the First World War. The Indian Maharajas also valued the luxury vehicles’ off-road capability and would master rough terrains and dense jungle while hunting tigers in a Rolls-Royce. The vehicles quickly acquired the reputation of not only being luxurious, but also robust and reliable. “Take the best that exists, and make it better” was and continues to be a firm belief of Rolls-Royce. This is set to be impressively proven once more with the luxury brand’s first SUV. The Rolls-Royce Cullinan is following the pioneers’ tradition and will redefine challenging off-road journeys while continuing to provide ultimate luxury in rough terrain.

The new all-terrain vehicle was named after the largest diamond ever found, which is now part of the British Crown Jewels. A timeless, functional design is the hallmark of the Cullinan. It is the first SUV in a three-box-design, a glass partition separates the passengers from the boot and creates an enclosed compartment. This means that the interior temperature will remain the same even if the boot is open, allowing neither hot nor cold air in.

A 6.75 litre twin-turbocharged V12 engine delivers 571 HP. The engine power is distributed by a new all-wheel drive with all-wheel steering. It is also the first Rolls-Royce that can be equipped with a tow-bar in order to be able to set a further 2.7 tonnes in motion in addition to its own weight of 2.6 tonnes. Rolls-Royce customers want to do more than just drive from a country home to a city home. The vehicle is designed to provide the ultimate in luxury no matter where that may be. It was therefore developed in order to meet the owner’s various requirements while combining diverse lifestyles in the vehicle interior. There is a choice between lounge seats and individual seats. The rear seatbacks can be folded down – which is a first for Rolls-Royce. Just like the electric tailgate of the boot that provides an opulent capacity of 560 litres and as much as 600 litres without the parcel shelf. 

If the Cullinan is unlocked using the key’s remote control, the vehicle automatically lowers itself by 40 millimetres to enable easier access to the car, further assisted by its rear-hinged doors.  Even if the Cullinan has traversed mud and snow, its passengers can comfortably exit the car without the risk of getting dirty thanks to the vehicle’s doors that extend far back into the sill, preventing any dirt from reaching the door sill.

Naturally, a multitude of state-of-the-art technologies make the Rolls-Royce Cullinan the most advanced vehicle of its class. 360-degree view cameras contribute to this fact. The windscreen camera scans the road, enabling predictive automatic adjustment of the suspension. Additional sensors constantly monitor whether any of the tyres are losing traction. As soon as a wheel loses its traction it is automatically pushed back down. Rolls-Royce is promising “the Luxury-SUV with the deepest wading depth” when it comes to the Cullinan – the car is said to be able to traverse up to 540 millimetres of water. The Cullinan is already seen as an icon in the world of SUVs. Heike Caroline Krismer, Total Vehicle Project Leader for the Cullinan at Rolls-Royce Motorcars, tells us about the challenges that were overcome during its development. 

Have you always been passionate about cars? 

Yes, absolutely. Ever since I was little.

The engineering and automotive industries tend to be dominated by men. What made you want to work in the automotive industry of all places?

During my mechanical engineering degree, I was working with a group of students who developed an entirely new motorbike at the Graz University of Technology in Austria. This resulted in the opportunity to work at the vehicle manufacturer Magna Steyr in Graz on the grassroots development project for the old Audi TT. I was therefore already involved with this project during my studies and was offered a full-time role with Magna Steyr after I graduated. That marked the beginning of my automotive career. At the time I purely relied on my abilities – and now I am sat here leading the engineering team for the launch of a new Rolls-Royce.

Did you encounter people with the stereotypical mindset that mechanical engineering is a job sector exclusively for men? How did you react?

Yes, of course I encountered both men and women who considered mechanical engineering and engineering to be just for men. However, from my point of view I can only say that I too am capable of doing the job and that I greatly enjoy it. I think it is incredibly important to support young girls and boys and to show them that there is no gender segregation when it comes to the job of their choice. If you are truly skilled in the technology and engineering sector, then your gender is of no importance.

How does it feel being part of the team that developed the first Rolls-Royce SUV?

To begin with, I must say that I am incredibly proud to have managed the team that developed a vehicle as magnificent as the Cullinan. We had a very international team that passionately worked towards one single goal: to make the Rolls-Royce of SUVs. And I think we succeeded. Of course, as a woman I wish that more women worked in field of engineering while knowing that they can be the best at their job.

The so-called “Magic Carpet Ride” driving experience has become synonymous with Rolls-Royce vehicles. How was this applied to the Cullinan?

Correct, every Rolls-Royce is known for its magic carpet driving experience, and it was a real challenge to apply this to all terrains for the Cullinan. As opposed to other SUV manufactures who first develop the vehicle’s off-road capability before also applying it to its road performance, we opted for the reverse approach and achieved a brilliant result.  Driving the Cullinan across rough terrain will demonstrate what a gentle and pleasant sensation it is.

What was the greatest challenge while developing the Cullinan?

The biggest challenge was combining the Rolls-Royce genes with typical SUV genes, and to do so in a Rolls-Royce appropriate manner that would satisfy customers and fans of our brand alike. Our “Architecture of Luxury”, which the Phantom, the Cullinan and all future Rolls-Royce models are based on, was the key to doing so. It allowed us to develop an imposing and impressive design for the Cullinan and to build a vehicle that is just as suitable for the road as it is for off-road tours.

Which other luxury or premium automotive manufacturers have you worked for in the past?

Before Rolls-Royce I worked for Lamborghini, Maserati, Audi and Alfa Romeo. But I have always wanted to work for Rolls-Royce and it is a great honour for me to now be the Engineering Project Leader for the Cullinan.

How does your previous experience working for other brands benefit you in your current role at Rolls-Royce?

During my career I worked as a project leader for an automotive supplier before working directly for the manufacturer. I was therefore familiar with all aspects of the development process, which greatly benefits me today. Through the course of my career I have also worked from large-scale production to small-scale production, which are completely different from one another.  This really helped me prepare for my transfer to Rolls-Royce, as Rolls-Royce is the ultimate small-scale luxury vehicle manufacturer.

Nowadays SUVs make up the largest global segment in the range of models of the automotive industry. Where does the appeal of these models come from?

Well, you have an elevated seat position in an SUV which gives you a better view of your surroundings and at what is happening around you, and it gives you an outstanding view of the road and of the course of the road ahead. An SUV can also be driven in the most extreme weather conditions, be it in summer or in winter – this provides a feeling of safety that many customers value highly.

Almost every vehicle manufacturer dabbles in SUVs. How high has Rolls-Royce set the bar for its competitors? 

First of all, the fact is that Rolls-Royce has been going off-road for over 100 years. From a historic point of view, Maharajas in India drove through the jungle in a Rolls-Royce and Lawrence of Arabia crossed the Sinai desert in one. Furthermore, as the global leading luxury brand in the automotive sector we do not have any competitors. But we have achieved this status because we provide the best quality in every segment with the best materials and unparalleled performance in terms of steering, driving and handling comfort, all in combination with maximum acoustic comfort and an unlimited individual bespoke programme.

Sometimes vehicle technology and design collide. How do you attempt to overcome or avoid this conflict?

Creating a Rolls-Royce is a task that can only be carried out successfully by working together. Both the technology and the design department developed the so-called “Architecture of Luxury” together for the last two models. It is an aluminium space-frame design. It was designed so that it can be adapted to all size and weight requirements of various future Rolls-Royce models. The basic principle of both engineers and designers must be to understand and support one another – and that is exactly what occurs at Rolls-Royce. Designers must design in such a manner that they meet technology and cost requirements, while engineers must develop functioning technology while considering cost and appearance. The “Architecture of Luxury” is a solution to this.



Heike Caroline Krismer began her career at Magna Steyr International before working for various luxury and performance vehicle brands for two decades. As Engineering Project Leader for Cullinan at Rolls-Royce she monitors its entire technical development including cost, quality assurance and engineering. Heike Caroline Krismer studied machine engineering and economics at the Graz University of Technology in Austria.

Picture credit © Rolls-Royce Motorcars

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published