Trained in mechanical engineering and economics, Heike Caroline Krismer has been interested in cars since she was a little girl.
During the course of her study at the Technical University of Graz in Austria, she got involved with a group of students who were developing a new motorcycle.
Through that, she landed the opportunity to work on the base development project for the Audi TT at Magna Steyr, a brand-independent automotive contract manufacturer. That was the start of her automotive career.
Since then, the 46-year-old Austrian has worked as a project leader at suppliers to the car industry, and then directly with carmakers such as Lamborghini, Maserati, Audi and Alfa Romeo.
“The experience has benefitted me tremendously as I got to know all aspects of the development process,” she says.
It has always been her ambition to work at Rolls-Royce and her progress from high to low volume manufacturers over the years has helped prepare her for her move to Rolls-Royce, which she considers “the ultimate low-volume luxury motor car maker”.
As a woman in a male-dominated profession within a male-dominated field, Caroline has proven that ability matters more than gender.
How do you feel about being a part of the team that developed Rolls-Royce’s first SUV?
I am incredibly proud to have led the team that developed the Cullinan. The team was an international one and really passionate about achieving one single aim – to make the Rolls-Royce of SUVs.
I believe we have done that. Also as a woman, I am very keen to see more women come into the discipline of engineering, with the knowledge that they can reach the very pinnacle of their chosen profession.
What do you think was the most critical aspect of your role as Total Vehicle Project Leader?
The buck stopped with me in ensuring that the Cullinan behaves and drives like a true Rolls-Royce. Delivering that was my ultimate responsibility to my colleagues and our customers.
How did you give the Cullinan a “Magic Carpet Ride”?
Every Rolls-Royce is reputed for its “Magic Carpet Ride”, but the real challenge was to bring this quality off-road with the Cullinan.
Unlike other SUV makers who develop off-road capability first and then try to bring it on-road, we took the opposite approach with some very pleasing results. I believe when you drive across rough terrain in the Cullinan, you will find it to be quite a phenomenally smooth experience.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in the development of the Cullinan?
It was combining Rolls-Royce genes with SUV genes in a very Rolls-Royce manner that pleased our customers and aficionados.
The Architecture of Luxury, which underpins the Phantom, Cullinan and all future new Rolls-Royces was key to achieving this. It allowed us to create an imposing and impressive design for the Cullinan and vehicle that is hugely capable both on-road and off.
SUVs make up the world’s largest automotive segment. What do you think is the appeal of SUVs?
With an SUV, you have a higher seating position and therefore a better view of the world outside, including the route ahead.
Also, the fact that you can drive an SUV in all extreme weather conditions, whether in the summer or winter, is attractive to many of our customers as you feel safe in the car.
Almost every carmaker is building SUVs. How does Rolls-Royce raise the bar?
Rolls-Royce has been in the off-road game for over 100 years. People such as the Maharajahs in India drove them through jungles and Lawrence of Arabia drove his across the Sinai Desert.
We feel that we do not have competitors in the automotive world. To me, what makes us the world’s leading luxury brand is being able to deliver the best quality in this segment, in terms of materials, performance and bespoke capabilities.
Engineering and design sometimes clash. What is your approach to resolving or balancing such conflicts?
Creating a Rolls-Royce is a collaborative exercise. The fundamental mindset of engineers and designers has to be that they understand and support each other.
Designers have to design to support technology and cost, and the engineers have to develop to cost and function whilst delivering beauty.
Have you encountered people who still stereotype engineering as a male profession? How do you react to this?
Yes, of course I have. From my point of view, I can only prove that I can do it and that I have a lot of fun doing it.
I feel it is important to support young girls and boys in understanding that there is no difference in gender when they choose a profession.