If your image of a Rolls-Royce owner is still a silver-haired gentleman or woman who is chauffeured everywhere, prepare to be shocked, for that stereotype no longer holds true.
Today’s Rolls-Royce owner is much younger, less formal and more easygoing. But like the previous generation, they are also self-made, and take pride in owning a car that bears their distinct signature.
Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös has witnessed a sea change since he took the reins over 12 years ago. He tells us what they predicted back then and how the brand adapted to take advantage of current trends.
He also discusses Spectre, the carmaker’s upcoming all-electric model, and explains why electric propulsion is a perfect fit for the brand.
What about the Spectre prototype surprised you?
When we conceived, designed and engineered Spectre, the intent was that this would be a Rolls-Royce first and an electric car second. This is what I’ve promised the clients and I have kept that promise. It feels, smells and drives like a Rolls-Royce.
What impresses me most is how effortless it is – that punch, that “waftability”. It has thrust. It is better than what I have expected it to be.
Now, I’m a big fan of our 12-cylinder engines because of their silent and super-torquey behaviour. But with electric propulsion, a Rolls-Royce is probably even better.
You’ve been with the brand for over a decade. In that time, how has the brand evolved?
We have witnessed a massive evolution in the 12.5 years I’ve been with the brand. When I first joined the company, Rolls-Royce was very much for the chauffeur-driven. Our clients’ average age was 56, and only 20% of them actually drove their cars.
Today, it is the exact opposite. Globally, 80% of our clients sit behind the wheel and their average age is now 43.
When I first came onboard, we consulted private banks to learn about the trends regarding high-net-worth individuals. They forecasted that these individuals would become far younger, because it’s easier to earn money and accumulate wealth today than it was decades ago.
Why and how has this happened?
Twenty years ago, one had to invest in real estate or perhaps machinery, tooling, etc. Today if you are smart enough, you need bright business ideas and a computer, and you can generate money earlier.
Not just through speculation or fintech, but through genuine business models.
The banks also forecasted that we would see a lot more women in this segment, and thus far, they have been proven correct. Today, 15% of our clients are women. Can it improve? Definitely, and I see their market share rising.
Our clients are also far more casual, easy and relaxed compared to 12 years ago, when the brand was more formal and seen as less approachable.
I would say 80% of our clientele are businessmen and businesswomen, while the remaining 20% are top celebrities. We have turned Rolls-Royce into a lifestyle brand, and I mean that in a positive way.
Were there already owners who were interested in an electric Rolls-Royce, even a decade ago?
Not yet, but from a legal point of view, I understood that one day, internal combustion vehicles may not be allowed in city centres. We needed to think about what happens after… if the 12-cylinder engine has to go.
That made us experiment with electric propulsion. Personally, it fits perfectly with the brand. And we received the same feedback from our electric Phantom 102EX prototype, which was showcased in Singapore.
Those who were interested told us we had to increase the car’s range and shorten the charging times. But battery technology was not as developed back in 2011.
Do younger clients want greater scope for customisation?
Very much. I’m glad that we invested in our Bespoke division some time ago. It now employs around 150 people. I dare say that without this division, Rolls-Royce would be dead today.
Everyone who commissions a Rolls-Royce goes for Bespoke. When you commission your dream car, you want a work of art that carries your signature. It shows you were involved with the designers in creating it.
Your imagination is our limit. Unless your request affects safety, everything is possible. It’s about expressing your style and making sure your story is told.
Does the focus on Bespoke limit volumes?
One hundred percent. It is why we are not keen on increasing volumes further. In fact, we would like to raise our price levels even higher in the future.
On average, a brand-new Rolls-Royce costs half a million British pounds, and there is room for it to go even further. We will do this by offering new Bespoke capabilities, ideas and features. But we will never lower our prices just to raise volumes.
Luxury means you must be rare.
On this topic, has Mark Court, your coachline painter, found a successor?
Mark is still with us, yes. However, due to the increased volume over the last few years – we are now up to 5,500 units annually – there is a need to educate and train new coachline painters.
There are now two more painters, and this team is headed by Mark.
The coachline is such an important signifier of a Rolls-Royce. Interestingly, till today, some clients forget to specify it, and we need to fly the guys out to paint it after the car has been delivered.
When first-time clients discover the scope for customisation, does this expand their creative horizons?
When clients visit our headquarters in Goodwood and talk to the craftspeople and engineers, and see their car being built, it makes them understand that this is not a car company. It’s an atelier where pieces of art are born.
This leads me to another project we are piloting: Private Office, which we have opened in Dubai, UAE. The idea behind Private Office is to bring Goodwood to the client.
Through it, customers have a direct connection to Goodwood and see their car being built on a large screen. They can also talk to the engineers and designers through the Office.
Will Rolls-Royce open a Private Office in Singapore?
Singapore is different because here, we have an operator, Mr. Karsono Kwee, who is already at the highest standards. But we would like to do more with him and bring Goodwood further into his operation.
How will the brand and the clientele evolve?
Well, by 2030 all our models will be fully electric. As for the clientele, we probably can’t drive the brand towards an even younger segment. Someone who is 43 has a counterpart who is around 20.
But what is even more important is that we as a brand always keep not just abreast of trends, but also what our clients want. This, among many other things, is what keeps me and my entire team awake and busy, constantly.