PSFK sat down with the CEO of Rolls-Royce this week to discuss the future of the luxury car-maker. Chief Executive Torston Müller-Ötvös talked about the launch of the second series of the Phantom range and explained how the brand connects with prospective and existing customers.
“We have a discerning customer who expects us to deliver the impossible. They expect no compromise,” said the auto-exec who spent the early part of his career in trends-research. Müller-Ötvös explained that new clientelle had been introduced to the Rolls-Royce brand with the launch of the Ghost. Now these new customers are driving their own car, often daily. The new batch of owners are self-made, rather than having benefited from inheriting family money.
When PSFK asked if they were concerned about how the next generation of car-buyers are reportedly disinterested in ownership, the Rolls-Royce team spoke about how buying a car is about the owner rewarding themselves. The team described how a billionaire in India in his 20s has a check list of all the good things in life and Rolls Royce is part of it.
The new Phantom continues to attract this type of customer with a mix of old and new styling, blended with technology, which is occasionally sourced from the labs at parent company BMW. With the new LED lighting system, Müller-Ötvös says that the owner will see the street at night unlike any other driver of another car (the Phantom Series II starts at $400,000).
Rolls-Royce only sells 3,600 cars a year. “When you buy into Rolls-Royce, you buy into a family,” said Müller-Ötvös. Prospective customers fly into London then are flown to the airfield by the plant in the English county of West Sussex. There the buyer gets to meet the craftsmen and to discuss their particular vehicle specifications. Visitors get to understand how people work at the plant, that they “take the best and make it better.”
After purchase, the brand connects with its customers through ‘money-can’t-buy’ events at locations such as Pebble Peach. While the company is prepared to take on any vehicle adaptation, most don’t tend to become part of the predetermined specs.
Müller-Ötvös maintains that their customers have garages like most people have wardrobes. Choosing a Rolls-Royce isn’t like choosing another car — the brands competitor’s are yacht purchases, a chalet in the swiss alps, fine art or jewelry. The car itself becomes an heir-loom like fine art or jewelry.
But the CEO admitted that times have changed and the customer is less interested in bling — and more interested in substance. Prospective owners want to know what they get for their money, and it is that “arrival” and “departure” moment that remains a key aspects of the brand. One Rolls-Royce executive explained that the feeling an owner has when they turn up somewhere in their ultra-luxury motorcar, and also when they leave, is a critical differentiator of the brand.
Müller-Ötvös ended the meeting by maintaining that they have no competition and dismissed Bentley as a lower-level luxury car: “You will never see Rolls-Royce build an SUV.”