Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars talks to The Wealth List about the resurgence of the iconic British luxury brand.
- What impact has BMW had on the Rolls Royce brand since it purchased it?
The renaissance of Rolls-Royce under BMW Group custodianship has been described as the ‘last great automotive adventure’ and looking back at a remarkable 11 years I couldn’t think of a more apt description.
In little over a decade, a leafy corner of West Sussex has been turned into a centre of British manufacturing excellence that employs over 1000 highly skilled craftspeople, engineers and designers. We now have three highly complementary and distinctive model families and have enjoyed four successive record sales years.
Most importantly, this growth is sustainable. Key to the success of BMW’s custodianship is a commitment to ensuring the long-term success of the business, and this is why we do not chase volume. A great custodian must understand what makes a brand like Rolls-Royce so precious, key tenets like: exclusivity, attention-to-detail and the restless striving for perfection that informs everything we do.
- Has it taken away any of the traditional aspects of how the cars were manufactured or has it allowed Rolls-Royce to retain its character?
First you have to say that Rolls-Royce always has and always will belong to Britain. You only have to look at why we chose Goodwood as the new Home of Rolls-Royce to see our commitment to retaining the core values that ensures the marque’s place at the pinnacle of automotive and indeed super-luxury excellence.
To create the very finest luxury goods in the world we needed master craftspeople with a unique blend of skills that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else. For example, we hired people from the local yachting industry with very specialist woodworking skills and craftspeople from the saddle-making industry. This first generation trained the next through our highly successful apprenticeship programme, guaranteeing the long-term future of these vital craft skills.
This traditional approach balances perfectly with the expertise and technological resources at our disposal thanks to the custodianship of the BMW Group; this is why a Rolls-Royce presents such an alluring blend of the world’s very finest craftsmanship, exquisite engineering and the application of the very latest technologies.
An invitation is of course extended to every customer to see this for themselves here at the Home of Rolls-Royce; indeed, meeting and hearing our customers express their amazement at the artisanal skill that goes into producing our motor cars is one of the great pleasures of my job.
- Can you give us a quick run through of the various models and how they differ please?
A favourite analogy of mine for explaining the marque’s distinct yet complementary line-up is that of a well-stocked wardrobe adorned with different jackets for different occasions.
Phantom for example is very much the formal dinner jacket. It is the most traditional expression of Rolls-Royce luxury boasting timeless, elegant lines and capacious proportions that presents owners of the saloon and Extended Wheelbase variants with the perfect motor car in which to be driven and arrive at a grand occasion. Coupé and Drophead Coupé body-styles appeal to those who wish to effortlessly drive themselves in peerless comfort and style.
ROLLS-ROYCE BESPOKE CHICANE PHANTOM COUPÉ
Ghost is most definitely the business suit. On launch, it introduced a bold and new generation of successful entrepreneurs to our marque and proved to be the perfect business tool during the week and an engaging, dynamic driver’s car for the weekend.
ROLLS-ROYCE GHOST SERIES II AT 2014 GENEVA MOTOR SHOW
Finally, Wraith is very much the perfectly tailored weekend sports-jacket. This highly dynamic, contemporary masterpiece blends daring fastback design and hallmark Rolls-Royce luxury with the most engaging driving experience ever presented in a Rolls-Royce. Since its launch last year I am delighted to say that it has built on the success of Ghost in attracting a bold, younger generation of successful people to the marque. Quite simply, it is the perfect car in which to travel great distances at pace.
- 2013 was another good year for Rolls Royce, your fourth consecutive year of sales growth. What do you put these impressive figures down to?
This can be attributed to the sustained demand across the world for both Ghost and Phantom family motor cars and a highly successful Wraith launch that has attracted a bold, young and highly contemporary new generation of customers to our marque.
Beyond that I’m also delighted to report a record year for our Bespoke personalisation service reflecting our highly discerning customers’ desire to commissioning truly unique and personal expressions of their tastes and lifestyles.
We are also delighted to report a balanced global sales picture, augmented by considered expansion into new and emerging markets like Vietnam, the Philippines, New Zealand and Kazakhstan.
- How many showrooms do you have around the world and which is the largest or most impressive.
We currently have 120 dealers across the globe.
In 2013 Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Abu Dhabi was our most successful dealership in terms of sales volume and Bespoke.
- Can you explain what the Rolls-Royce Bespoke personalisation programme is all about?
Our highly discerning customers seek a level of personalisation that goes far beyond the traditional features and options list. We therefore employ a unique team of the world’s finest designers, engineers and craftspeople at the Home of Rolls-Royce to work with our customers in turning their cars into highly personal expressions of their tastes, lifestyles and even business lives.
A Bespoke commission can include anything from the relatively simple application of a hand-painted coachline or tread-plate expressing a family name or business insignia, to more elaborate collaborations like paint perfectly matched to a favourite garment or even a wood set sourced from a customer’s private estate.
We also provide customers with the opportunity to commission additions that augment a favourite leisure activity, for example, in-car cigar humidors, jewellery boxes and champagne fridges are favoured options.
The process starts with a consultation in the showroom, with customers expressing in broad terms the type of Bespoke accoutrements they may wish to add to their cars. Every customer is extended an invitation to the Home of Rolls-Royce, in West Sussex with many taking the opportunity to consult with our Bespoke designers personally.
The popularity of our Bespoke offering has grown exponentially in recent years with nearly every Phantom that leaves the Home of Rolls-Royce having some element of Bespoke Design. This extends to Wraith (90%) and Ghost (75%). Indeed, Bespoke is Rolls-Royce!
- What are your biggest markets at the moment and what is the reason for this?
In line with our strategy to grow the business sustainably I am very pleased to report that our business is well balanced across the globe. We therefore don’t rely on the prosperity of one particular market.
China and the USA represent our two biggest markets The Middle East has become increasingly important having enjoyed significant growth in 2013, whilst Europe remains steady despite challenging market conditions.
I am also delighted to report Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ home market; the UK remains consistent, accounting for approximately 10% of our total volume.
This success can be attributed to a number of factors; firstly, we boast a highly complementary but distinctive product line-up. Phantom remains the world’s pinnacle motor car whilst Ghost has very much become the conveyance of choice for a discerning and growing band of dynamic and highly successful entrepreneurs. Wraith has also proved to be an enormous success in introducing a new generation of successful and bold men and women to our marque.
It is however important to state that we do not chase volume, our customers do not want to see a Rolls-Royce on every street corner. It is therefore vital that as custodians of this precious brand that we do not make the kind of pronouncements on future sales that mass luxury car brands make. To ensure that this sustainable growth curve continues, a Rolls-Royce will always remain a highly rare, exquisitely crafted Bespoke masterpiece.
- In which areas/countries do you see future growth?
A key part of our strategy to continue growing sustainably has been our push into new and emerging markets. We therefore work to identify and engage with appropriate dealer partners in markets where we see growth potential. Much of this focus has been in the Asia-Pacific region where in recent years we have announced presences in markets as diverse as Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. This allows us to service a growing population of highly successful entrepreneurs who seek to reward themselves with the world’s pinnacle luxury goods.
Beyond Asia-Pacific we have enjoyed much success in Russia and are continually looking for growing pockets of wealth; for example we will shortly open dealerships in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Cambodia. This strategy allows us to best serve our growing customer base.
- How does the brand plan to cope with any further increase in sales volume, will you open another plant or expand the existing one at Goodwood?
Key to the success of our stewardship of the marque is ensuring our manufacturing facility here at Goodwood is flexible and therefore able to respond to increasing demand.
When Ghost launched in 2009 we re-formatted the existing plant and employed and trained several hundred more craftspeople, a second round of expansion and investment also took place last year to accommodate growing demand for our Bespoke personalisation service.
- What future technological advances has the company got planned to keep its place as a leading luxury motor brand.
For 110 years Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ has operated at the very vanguard of automotive technology – this proud tradition continues to this day. For example, the launch of Wraith saw the debut of a very exciting new technology and a first for the super-luxury sector; Satellite Aided Transmission. Essentially it allows the car to see beyond what the driver sees by utilising GPS data to ensure the car’s cutting edge transmission is always in the right gear for the terrain ahead. SAT is the perfect technology for Wraith in allowing drivers to effortlessly tackle great driving roads at pace.
Beyond that, we unveiled Ghost Series II at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2014, a fine example of our commitment to ensuring our customers have access to the very latest technological advances when driving or being driven in their Rolls-Royces. A new suite of technologies, including the integration of Satellite Aided Transmission and brand-new full LED lighting technology ensures Ghost remains at the cutting-edge.
- Can you tell us an odd fact or quirk that people may not know about the brand.
The highly Bespoke nature of our brand and the type of customers we serve certainly makes for some interesting stories so it’s difficult to pick one!
Many of my favourites come from initially quirky customer requests informing production. For example, a customer came to us a few years ago asking for a softer, less direct light in the rear of his car for reading the newspaper. After much discussion with our designers and engineers we sketched the first concept for Starlight Headliner, 1340 fibre optic cables hand-woven into the leather roof lining of the car to give the impression of stars in the sky. From this first commission, the feature has become one of our most enduring and popular Bespoke additions.
- 2014 is Rolls-Royce’s 110th Year Anniversary. How do you plan to mark the occasion?
We marked this occasion by participating in a special luncheon at the Midland Hotel, scene of that fateful meeting between C.S. Rolls and Henry Royce on the exact anniversary of them striking an agreement to build cars under the Rolls-Royce name.
- And finally, what model and specification would you drive and why?
It is always so hard to pick between them, like many of our customers I am fortunate enough not to have to choose! I therefore have access to a Phantom for formal and ceremonial occasions, the Ghost for day-to-day business and a Wraith for enjoying driving the fantastic roads here in the Sussex Downs at the weekend!
You may also enjoy our recent article on the Rolls-Royce Dawn here.
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