Rolls-Royce Phantom Art Deco, inlay trim. Click image to enlarge
Article by Peter Bleakney
Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös says they are not in the business of selling cars. “Our vehicles are aspirational luxury items. Pieces of art. A reward. A gift.”
Call them what you may, business is good at Rolls. Especially here in Canada. A new dealership just opened in Calgary (adding to those in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto) and national sales were up 50 percent last year. Percentage-wise, we’re outperforming the US, which is outpacing overall world performance. Of course Canadian numbers are puny compared to the US, which is Rolls’ biggest market.
Ah… numbers. In the past Rolls-Royce famously would not divulge horsepower figures, stating them to be “adequate”. That practice is over, but the Rolls brass is still very tight-lipped about production numbers. They will let on that 2014 production will be limited to around 4,000 cars, but don’t ask for the number of Canadian customers, or how many Wraiths have been sold in Toronto.
Rolls-Royce customers are paying long dollars to join a very exclusive fraternity that trades on rarity and privacy as much as the exquisite bespoke workmanship steeped in 110 years of history. As Müller-Ötvös says, Rolls-Royce owners do not want to hear about ramped up production, and the last thing they need to see is their car parked on the same block.
And that is Rolls’ mandate – keep volume low and exclusivity high. As a tiny slice of the BMW pie, Rolls-Royce is not under pressure to generate a lot of cash. Indeed, Müller-Ötvös’ job is to ensure Rolls-Royce is profitable, but more than anything, he and the family-owned BMW consider themselves to be custodians of a legend which to all the world represents the pinnacle of automotive excellence.
And without BMW’s acquisition of the Rolls-Royce brand name in 1998, the iconic British automaker would very likely be extinct. At that point, things were not good at Rolls. The legend had lost some aura – technology lagged, quality was down and only 300 cars were produced a year.
BMW opened a new facility in Goodwood in 2003, invested in tech, trained new craftsmen and set about to resurrect the brand. The cars are still meticulously hand built – the only robots are in the paint shop. Yes, the turbocharged V12 engines use a BMW block, but all the other engine bits are exclusive to Rolls.
There are currently seven Rolls-Royce motor cars on the menu. The enormous Phantom limousine, which comes in two wheelbase lengths, remains the company flagship and is the most traditional vehicle. It starts at $468,510.
Rolls-Royce Phantom rear seats, dashboard. Click image to enlarge
The Phantom Drophead Coupe ($551,742) was introduced in 2007. A year later we got a hardtop version – the Phantom Coupe. That runs about 50 grand less than the Drophead.
The Ghost sedan bowed in 2009. Müller-Ötvös labels it as “the more subtle way to drive a Rolls-Royce”. It found buyers ranging from 40 to 50 years old – down a decade from the Phantom crowd. At $329,782, this V12 sedan is the entry point into the world of Rolls.
Launched last year, the $338,129 Wraith is a striking fastback coupe version of the Ghost, and it sees an even younger audience with buyers in the 30 to 40 year range. Eighty percent of Ghost and Wraith customers are new to the brand.