Who needs a Rolls-Royce?
Sales are booming for the car the world doesn’t need.
Rolls-Royce secured its fifth consecutive year of growth last year building more than 4000 cars by years end. Its production volume is four times that of 2009, merely five years ago and the blink of an eye compared with the marque’s 108-year history.
But now it’s being tempered, reined in by the need to be exclusive and the self-imposed constraints of building a car, virtually, by hand.
Rolls-Royce’s German-born and BMW-trained chief executive, Torsten Muller-Otvos, is pragmatic in his assessment that despite his company striving for the badge of the pinnacle of motoring, he says “no one needs a Rolls-Royce”.
“Let’s face it, ” he said in a private interview with WestWheels in Melbourne, “you can travel from A to B in a lot of cars but in ours, it is an experience like no other.
“We are not part of the car industry in the true sense. Our customers crave experiences. We offer them, through our bespoke department, the ability to create a car.
“That’s the possibility for buyers who can afford a Rolls-Royce. We offer membership to an exclusive family — what other luxury-car maker offers that?”
In Australia to meet customers and potential buyers, Mr Muller-Otvos believes Rolls-Royce hasn’t best served the Australian market.
“In terms of marketing the brand, in terms of investing in this market, yes, we have underestimated Australia, ” he said.
“Sales have grown 118 per cent from 2013 to 2014. There is more potential here.
“Changes have been made to cater for Australian customers and more changes will be made. It’s interesting to note that all Rolls-Royce cars delivered to Australia are bespoke. They’re all personalised to the customer’s requirements and taste.”
Mr Muller-Otvos said the Australian economy was very strong, disputing critics who believe the 2.5 per cent domestic growth is weak.
“Most countries in Europe would get on their knees for 2.5 per cent growth, ” he said.
“The Wraith is our best-selling model in Australia and that’s mainly because Australians want to drive the car, ” he said.
“Most markets use chauffeurs, especially for owners of the Phantom. The Wraith is a driver’s car. We see it as an accompaniment in the garage to, say, a Ferrari. About 80 per cent of Wraith owners are also new to the brand.”
Building steadily on sales will be a drophead coupe version of the Ghost due in mid-2016.
“There is the potential for an SUV, ” he said.
“In principle, it’s viable. It makes sense to look into that segment of the market. But we have to be sure it fits the brand. We’ll make a decision next year but we’re not in a hurry — we aren’t forced into new product cycles.”
But the future may not include an electric vehicle. Despite a warm reception for its Phantom-based all-electric 102EX, shown at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, development was ceased.
“I am convinced there’s a need for alternative fuels and powerplants, ” he said.
“An electric car like the 102EX fits perfectly with our brand — effortless, silent, smooth and efficient. But it was seen by customers as a compromise.
“There was a lukewarm reception to potential buyers of the electric vehicle. The problems were its long charge time — up to eight hours — and the limited range between charges.
“Many customers live on the outskirts of cities and so range is important. We didn’t have a single order for the car.”
Mr Muller-Otvos said the technology would still be monitored by his engineers, admitting if battery power and life could be improved then “we see a role for it”. “But we won’t compromise — our customers won’t compromise. Remember: they don’t need our cars.”
Increased emphasis on the brand has meant four dealers in Australia — including a new Perth dealership — and the potential for more visits from Mr Muller-Otvos.
“I want to see customers and our future customers face to face, ” he said. “It’s how we do business.”
Sales of the brand were strengthening in all markets because Rolls-Royce delivered something exclusive, he said.
“You don’t have to explain a Rolls-Royce to anyone. It’s the best limousine in the world.”
Photo: Rolls-Royce press release www.press.rolls-roycemotorcars.com
© The West Australian
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