Brief - The Hustle

Rolls-Royce made the world’s first autonomous boat (no, not that Rolls-Royce)

Written by Wes Schlagenhauf | Jun 30, 2020 9:13:48 AM

Rolls-Royce tested the world’s first autonomous ferry boat in Finland yesterday. 

It’s good news for Rolls-Royce the boatmaker and Rolls-Royce the carmaker. The twin Royces are completely unrelated businesses, but their separate successes seem to be linked by their shared name.

Will the real Rolls-Royce please honk its horn?

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars (owned by BMW) makes luxury automobiles. Rolls-Royce Holdings  (a publicly listed engineering company) makes jet engines, nuclear submarines — and now, self-driving boats. So, why do both companies have the same name?

The modern Royces share a common ancestor: When Rolls-Royce declared bankruptcy in 1971, it split into a nationalized holding company and a smaller carmaker.

The engineering company went public in 1987, while the car company was bought by BMW in 1998 — but both businesses retained their rights to the valuable family name.

When one Royce Rocks, the other Royce Rolls

Almost 50 years later, the public is still confused about the messy divorce: 3 years ago, the carmaking Rolls complained that the engineering Rolls’ poor earnings were hurting its image.

“We know how famous the brand is, and as much as we have done to make clear that they are separate, for many people it is hard to see the difference,” explained the automaker’s CEO at the time.

The fate of the 2 companies is still bound by public ignorance. But nowadays, business is good: The boat business recently partnered with Intel to launch self-navigating cargo ships by 2025, and the car company is expanding its workforce due to increased demand.