Rolls-Royce Is About To Get An Unexpected Challenger

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And it has Goodwood's former design chief lined up to lead the way.

Rolls-Royce competes in a territory almost entirely on its own, but that elevated corner of the luxury segment is attracting new competitors. And the latest comes from a rather unexpected direction.

Autocar reports that Chinese automaker FAW Group has big plans for a new class of high-end ultra-luxurious vehicles under its recently revived Hongqi brand. But while they'll be focused initially and principally on the local market, and adopt a uniquely Chinese approach, they could stand to reach other markets to compete with Rolls-Royce on a global scale. And they have just the designer to get it there.

Hongqi
Hongqi
Hongqi
Hongqi

Last year, FAW poached Rolls-Royce design chief Giles Taylor as its new Global Vice President of Design and Chief Creative Officer, running the FAW Advanced Design Center in Munich and focusing particularly on the Hongqi (or "Red Flag") brand. Hongqi is known particularly for producing the rather British-looking L5 limousine (pictured above and below) – one of the most expensive made in China – largely for government officials, complete with a 6.0-liter V12 engine. But Taylor envisions taking a rather different approach.

"We have to find a new Chinese, innovative and digital way of crafting new Hongqi vehicles that stand alone," he told Autocar.

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Hongqi
Hongqi
Hongqi
Hongqi
Hongqi

"I think there's a richness in the Chinese culture, whether it's through ancient sculpture, fashion, calligraphy – there's a rich mine to tap into to bring not just a Western answer, but a Chinese answer." And that's something that's proving particularly popular among the emerging class of wealthy young customers in the rapidly developing country.

"We're picking up young customers with extreme wealth – they want to buy Chinese," said Taylor, who claims that Hongqi "will become the number-one luxury brand in China." But breaking out of the Chinese market to go global will be a far greater challenge.

Rolls-Royce
Rolls-Royce
Rolls-Royce
Rolls-Royce

"To bring the Chinese 'Rolls-Royce' out of China will always be a challenge because the 114-year brand legacy of Rolls-Royce has been cultivated and crafted and enhanced decade on decade." And he knows what he's talking about, having lead the design of modern Rolls-Royce models like the Dawn convertible, the Cullinan SUV, and the new Phantom.

Hongqi isn't the only one going after Goodwood's lucrative corner of the market, either. Bentley has several models that compete directly, and while Daimler has taken Maybach relatively down-market to carve out its own niche, Aston Martin is in the process of relaunching the Lagonda brand as a direct competitor to Rolls-Royce.

Hongqi
Hongqi
Hongqi
Hongqi

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