The first Rolls-Royce developed under BMW ownership will use advanced aluminum space-frame construction that borrows heavily from the Z8 sports car.

The new Rolls-Royce sedan should be launched early in 2003, within weeks of BMW assuming control of Britain's most famous marque from Volkswagen AG on January 1.

“Now you can see why the Z8 technology was so important to us,” says Burkhard Goschel, senior vice president general vehicle design and innovation for BMW AG. BMW's Rolls-Royce adopts the technology of the aluminum space-frame and non-loading bearing aluminum panels.

The assembly flexibility for low-volume construction of the space-frame concept makes it far easier for Rolls-Royce to launch the new model in a variety of different body styles, thought to include a coupe, convertible and an even longer wheelbase version than the already lengthy sedan.

A space-frame can pass crash test requirements, while allowing the use of different body styles. Mr. Goschle says that while the new Rolls will use many BMW components, its size and weight dictate new front and rear suspensions.

At first, it was assumed that Rolls-Royce would build the new car on the platform of the next generation 7 series, due out in 2002. But Wolfgang Ziebart, head of development at BMW says, “We could save ourselves hundreds of millions of Deutsche marks in the short term, but long term it would ruin the marque.”

BMW's board has yet to sign off on the new Rolls-Royce's styling. A full-size prototype designed in London by Greg Brew, an American ex-Lancia stylist whose been working for BMW in California for a couple of years and is a Rover designer, recently was presented to Karl-Heinz Kelbfab, the head of sales and marketing for BMW. Development of this prototype continues, though Mr. Goschel says the company is in no hurry. “We only need 24 months from design freeze to the beginning of production,” he says, adding that the new BMW X5 SUV required just 22 months.