An exclusive interview with Jon Simms, engineering lead for the New Rolls-Royce Ghost

The New Rolls-Royce Ghost (Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce).

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has just released the latest generation of Rolls-Royce Ghost, the most successful model from the British super luxury brand that has a complete makeover both inside and out.

To find out more about how the New Ghost was developed and how much improved it has been, Cars and Crowns has an exclusive interview with Jonathan Simms, engineering project lead for New Ghost.

Jon is Project Leader for New Ghost at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, managing all functions within the project team to launch the new benchmark motor car. With Rolls-Royce, Jon was also previously a Total Vehicle Validation Manager and Product Integration Manager, responsible for vehicle development and testing, as well as the technical integration of new models into Goodwood.

With the MINI brand, Jon was also the part of the technical team that relaunched MINI under the ownership of BMW. He was also involved in building up a new production plant and team. Privately, Jon is also an automotive enthusiast, with an active involvement in classic and modern
cars and motorcycles.

Full interview can be heard on our podcast above.

Can you share a bit about yourself, how long you have been with the company?

So I have been with Rolls-Royce for 13 years, so quite a long time, I was involved with all the recent launches, Phantom, Phantom Series II, original Goodwood Ghost, Cullinan, and now the New Ghost.

I’ve always been focused on the launches of the new models. So, first of all, looking into the product integration of the new cars.

With the New Ghost, I’m the project lead division for engineering.

For someone like myself that is an absolute petrolhead to be able to have such a part in launching new models of RR is really incredible

And to look back to what we have achieved in 13 or 14 years we are really establishing and expanding the RR brand, it’s really exciting.

The advantage that we have is that we have a relatively small team compared to many companies. I wouldn’t know to put a specific number on it because we have some members who are there halfway through the projects and certain tasks there are some that can come along and help us in different stages of the project.

But really the main advantage that we have is if I look to an example if I look to the guys that worked on the chassis and powertrain of the cars, those colleagues have been involved in almost every RR launch since phantom 7,

In terms of how they work, they are able to work with a great deal of experience of what has gone into previous launches, what has gone into the development of the architecture, and also with years and years of customer feedback, I think that gives us a big advantage in terms of development.

We have some soft target and hard target, a number of targets come from regulation from emission to crash test and materials you can use, these are hard targets, these are black and white targets and measurable targets that we have to consider during the development process, in parallel to that there is more benchmarking target, we know internally from customer feedback how the vehicle needs to perform in certain areas, sometimes those targets come in the form of comparisons, so we know in certain areas there are no absolutely no question, we are targeting the best vehicle available, like acoustic for us there is no second place when in come to acoustic for a car in this class, we want to be the leader there no question.

In other areas, for example, dynamics, comparisons and the targets we have is more difficult, because we want the car to have a unique personality.

We are not trying to be the most dynamic car you can buy, but that said we know that many of our customers enjoy driving their cars, so that’s is one area that we want to make sure the vehicle had a unique personality that is more dynamic than let’s say a Phantom but it’s never of going to the area of feeling sporty or stiff, so we really have to go through and we have a very clear target agreement.

Jon Simms, engineering lead for the New Ghost (Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce).

The biggest challenges in developing the car?

The entire development process for any car is a series of challenges, many challenges come from simplicity, for example when we look at the body structure of the car or with how the interior is designed there is many flat sides of leather, these areas you would say don’t look to be difficult to achieve from a design perspective. But many of our challenges are focused around trying to industrialize or being able to produce repeatedly the extremely high quality our customers expect.

If we take the dashboard of the car, to get a production process where the associate by hand are able to stitch and produce the cockpit for the vehicle with no stitch at all on the top surface, this is something that you wouldn’t think it seeing the end product, but this takes hundred and hundred of hours and lots of loops of working with prototype parts, to get to the stage where we achieve the result that we are happy with.

So I would say one of the most challenging parts is actually industrializing the vehicle, once we know what we want to achieve, then bring it into a stage where we can produce it and these clean simple lines are able to be produced to the right quality level that was one of the biggest challenges.

Also, the other things that we do are that we have every model of Rolls-Royce, so we have a Phantom 7, 8, and every other model like Ghost series 1 & 2, the engineers here will spend regular time driving those vehicles, so we don’t only focus on what we building now and in the future, we constantly going back to past references as well to makes sure in key areas in making the improvements that we want to.

So in terms of how they work, they are very consistent in transferring knowledge project to project, and we also work in the way of being open to regular customer feedback and exposure on actually driving and experiencing the product.

The New Rolls-Royce Ghost with its minimalism approach (Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce).

You have invented many innovations for Rolls-Royce, which one is the most memorable?

In terms of memorable inventions, I think, it’s very current with the new Ghost, on how with small change we have created a big difference in the ride comfort of the car and it’s the planar system, for the whole team the work on that have experience driving a car with and without the system, it’s a proper eureka moment, this is when an application of an idea, engineering principles, very core principles when we put it together as an idea an put it on the car, this is a moment that I look back to where I drove the car with this and without this and you see the difference, the black and white difference a particular innovation has made, so I think this is particularly the one that stands out as a big step forward.

With the effortless door on the new Ghost, we have an idea for what we wanted to achieve, and when we are in the early stages of software and hardware for these doors we realize the scale of the challenge to get it running at the level that we wanted it, but it’s a nice feeling when I showed it to customers and local journalist in these couple of days, it’s nice you don’t have to explain it, you operate it and there is a look of joy from their face, this is for me what engineering should be, it should effortlessly provide a solution to end-users.

And I think that’s what we achieve with that innovation.

It’s very interesting to go through the development process, with the Ghost is a clearer and direct process than with some models, because we have the architecture and a set of customers feedback, so we knew what we have a baseline, we knew where we wanted to go, so we can get quickly start on our development phase, sometimes people don’t see everything that goes into development because when you start a development process it’s very challenging to picture the end results because for example in one day you are focusing on developing the suspension and the next day it’s the interior component, you have many small pieces of work that running in parallel to each other.

And the team is quite small and constantly talking together.

What satisfying point was, we have some milestones where all the latest level parts are brought together into a new prototype build, so those are the moment that sustains and encourages the team because you have done a lot of work, you solve a lot of problems, you made steps forward in the development, you bring it together you build an updated prototype, you able to drive that and get the impression from how far you have cone as a team, it’s a how the development process works it’s a series of a very hard bit of work where you constantly solving problems.

The rear seat entertainent system (Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce).

The Asian market is an important market for Rolls-Royce, how do you design the car to meet with the expectations of the Asian customers?

In terms of Asian customers, the first one thing that we want to be able to design from the early stage was the ability to have a clean and modern two-tone, so actually many Asian customers love the aesthetic of the two-tone, the two-color exterior of the car. 

So this was something we want to design the car with that in mind, and that something put into the development process here that we were able to achieve, you will see some of those inspired specifications have been directly inspired by the feedback from the Asian market.

Also, we find that many of our Asian customers tend to go towards the rear seat compartments, and actually, when we are looking into the entertainment system this is one of the areas where we really engage our customers in dialog on where we should go with the system, we knew that the Asian market is a big user of that system. 

So it was a challenge for us to go really incorporate a huge number of new features or we just modernize and really focus on core features related to the car. 

That was the feedback we got from our customers, they rather have in the car a system that is clean, simple to use, and often is you go into a new car sometimes the entertainment system, often is a case of they have put too many features in and is not user friendly, and this is not a Rolls-Royce experience.

We have concentrated on bringing up to date system that is not a system that removable, it’s not a system that offers 101 features that you have in your smartphone anyways, it’s a system that focuses on an effortless interface to the vehicle and that is one the key areas with feedback from our Asian Customers.

We are very fortunate because we have a very open dialogue with certain key customers that very much like to involved with us in terms of the ownership experience and compared with other companies we have a small number of dealerships, this means we can get clear and quick feedback on how what customers love and what customers want to improve, so this really works for us.

The Starlight Headliner of the New Ghost (Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce).

With the pandemic still continuing all over the world, the MEPS system sounds to be a very interesting and important feature, can you share more about this?

We have worked really hard with various departments to get a level of filtration that was as high as we could, what is the current state of the art. We have to be careful with the claims we make for the system, when we look into the size of the particulate that the filter can filter, this filter is capable of filtration down to bacterial level.

There are two active elements and one passive element. The filtration system is obviously one active system and we have a controlled system as well that has a sensor that is able to detect impurities, that by itself is nothing new and that particular system has been available for a long time, but actually what we have done is work on its detection capability. We are at the front of the market at the moment with this system.

The particles are channelled through the air filter and we have this air quality detection system, within a very short time of the two minutes mark that we can make a significant change with the air quality on the passenger compartment.

Other than I mentioned, the passive part is that we really worked on the acoustic that also helps to improve the tightness of the cabin.

So in terms of door sills, boot sills, etc its tighter that helps to control the airflow.

The illuminated fascia (Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce).

In the interior, the Illuminated fascia is an highlighted feature, can you share more about this one?

It’s a really beautiful feature when you see it.

What I love about it is the fascia panel has this very deep high gloss piano black finish to it, when the illumination is not switched on its really impossible to see any trace of lettering or illumination behind it. It’s really dark black. And it’s a really surprising and delightful feature when it’s illuminated, you suddenly notice these beautiful patterns of stars that come through.

As we mention, the way each of the stars is machined within the layer of the part, this means you have this difference in brightness between each of the stars and you have a very organic feel to it.

It has a very natural feel to it.

When you see that part, it’s a good example of how much effort we put in Rolls-Royce to actually look simple but to generate that it’s really complex.

When you look behind this fascia panel, you have multiple layers of lacquer and paint, you have a base layer, illumination panel, metallic elements sandwiched between it to comply with crash test regulation etc.

What I love about the finish part is it looks so simple, and yet when you know what’s gone into it, there is an incredible depth of engineering.

The New Rolls-Royce Ghost (Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce).

The New Ghost has no significant change in terms of engine output, what are the upgraded to enhance the drive quality?

In terms of the hardware, there is nothing significantly different, there are minor changes, but there is no significant change to the powertrain that we used in the Cullinan.

We were able to focus more of our time to the driving characteristics, we wanted the Ghost to have a distinct personality, so it had to be engaging to drive as to be driven in, what we have done, again with having the engine set up we have, its relatively easy for us to optimize the vehicle to the performance that we wanted.

We have concentrated on driving experience that is more dynamic, If you experienced Cullinan and you like it, you can imagine in term of a Rolls-Royce, if you start with the Cullinan as a basis and created a lower centre of gravity, and lighter weight, you already going into a good direction.

With the software-based optimization as having unique air struts, we can really optimize the chassis for what we wanted.

The planar system on the front suspension brought us the next level forward in terms of ride comfort, now we have this good balance, we believe between an engaging driving experience but also a luxury and comfort-focused driving experience.

In term of acoustic of the car, again we worked very hard to put insulation between the engine compartment and the bulkhead, what you will find if you do something ungraceful as push the car hard you will notice you got some feedback from the engine because we realize if a customer wants to drive the car more dynamically on some occasion they want some feedback, you will hear some feedback but we believe its very low level and very measured level of inputs.

The car does have a very dynamic character, but please don’t imagine that we lost comfort.

The steering wheel is smaller and thicker than a Phantom, with the four-wheel steer in a slightly smaller saloon body, what you really find.

Sometimes it’s really difficult to hide the weight of the car, what we found with the new Ghost is with the four wheel steer, particularly at speed when you are doing lane change or you are driving dynamically on a road with curves, the four wheel steering really helps in removing this feel of weight transfer.

Because sometimes in a heavier vehicle if you make a turn you almost feel the sensation of the weight of the car turning first from the front and the rear axle settle afterwards that creates this slightly wallowy feeling. With the four wheel steering this can be reduced a lot.

With the improvement on the suspension you will definitely feel less of this weight transfer, I’ve driven a few people in the car and even in heavy you got less of this feeling of rocking.

We have done as much as we can to hide the weight, but with the law of physics there is a limit on how much you can do to a certain level that is a still significant level of weight.

But with New Ghost you will definitely notice improvements in terms of those behaviors, of turn in, acceleration and deceleration.

The weight difference between the old and new car is actually quite similar. Initially some people saw it strange with the alumunium architecture. When you think about it, we incorporate a huge amount more in terms of technology like four wheel drive and four wheel steering, obviously it’s a significant mechanical hardware. This will bring benefit to our customers.

The New Ghost is 2.490 kg  the previous was 2.360 kg, we have a slight increase, but with the fact we have nearly double the sound isolation in terms of weight, we have the planar system, all-wheel drive system, and four wheel steering, actually it’s still an impressive achievement.

How effective is the new Planar suspension?

Its effective in different scenarios, the one that I find most effective is and I can notice a big difference is if you are on a road surface that is isn’t bad but also isn’t good, you have something like freeway or motorway but the surface is not brand new, it looked to your eyes to be quite flat, but there are constant high frequency inputs into the car. In that type of scenario you will notice that so much of the high frequency noise is taken out by the system.

It’s a huge step of improvement. I had experience of driving with people that had no experience of what we have done to the car, so we do blind test and they couldn’t necessarily describe what it was, but they can feel directly the difference of inputs from the door panel, seats, the things you touch on the car and you can notice the difference.

The main benefit and effectiveness is on those smoothness, on other vehicles you will still feel the inputs though the car.

The Indonesian version of the interview can be read here.

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