First Drive: Rolls-Royce 102EX

"All we know for sure is that our customers love the 12-cylinder and hate diesel. Take that to the bank!" So declares Richard Carter, the most excellently British (even though he's South African) head of global Rolls Royce PR. See, Rolls Royce has a problem. Every vehicle it manufactures has a twin-turbo 12-cylinder engine that -- let's face it -- is about as green as Arnold Schwarzenegger's Hummer. Not the bio-diesel one. And it's not that Rolls Royce cares about being green. It doesn't. No, its problem is that its customers love their Rolls-Royces. In fact, they love their Rollers so much that 2010 was a record sales year, with 2,711 cars sold, an increase of 171 percent compared with 2009.

 Why, then, am I and two other American journalists seated in a conference room at the posh, modern Rolls Royce factory in Goodwood, Sussex, UK, eagerly waiting to drive the new battery-powered Phantom? "It would be a little disingenuous for us to claim that we suddenly developed a green conscious," says Carter. The reason the stunning Atlantic Chrome painted 102EX, aka the ROLLS ROYCE PHANTOM Experimental Electric, has a 1452-pound battery pack where the 6.75-liter twin-turbo V-12 once sat is because Rolls Royce is concerned about the future. Specifically, its future.

 "Rolls-Royce has been around for 106 years. How do you guarantee another 106?" Carter asks. To wit, Rolls Royce would be happy to continue selling gigantically refined (and let's face it, boisterously gas-guzzling) internal combustion-powered land yachts to its "rather unique customer base" forever. But due to forces beyond the automaker's control -- legislative, peak oil, or even (gasp) social acceptance -- the cars may "one day have to be something other than 12-cylinders and two turbochargers."