Why Rolls-Royce Isn’t (Just) a Car Company

If you’ve always thought of Rolls Royce as a car company then you should think again, according to Rolls-Royce CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös.

With sales in the first half of the year up more than 33% according to an August earnings report, Rolls has made a significant comeback after the economic downturn forced production to slow in 2008.

Just prior to the festivities of Pebble Beach and Monterey Motor Week in August, I sat down at the Four Seasons in San Francisco, with Rolls Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös and a select group of worldwide executives to discuss the business.

Müller-Ötvös said that there has been a marked change in the profile of the Rolls-Royce buyer, particularly with the introduction of the incredibly popular two-door Wraith model. Most buyers of the Wraith are 35 and up, whereas previously Rolls’ buyers started at age 40. The youngest owner according to Rolls, is just 28 years old.

The Wraith is a special car, with a 6.6L, twin turbo, V12 engine, it is the most powerful Rolls in the line-up. It is also one of the best looking. I had a chance to drive it  back in December for CNNMoney and loved my time with it.

Müller-Ötvös also noted that there are less buyers with “inherited money.” As much as 80% of all Rolls-Royce buyers are entrepreneurs, versus the 20% that are the more typical buyer; celebrities and royalty. According to President, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars NA, Eric Shepherd, a good 10% of Wraith buyers are women, which is a marked shift in Rolls-Royce customers.

Perhaps that is because, As Müller-Ötvös notes, Rolls-Royce isn’t an auto brand, but a luxury brand.

“We compete with watch makers, handbag makers, even artists. Buying a Rolls-Royce is reserved as a reward for success, so we are competing in the luxury goods business and are custodians of a brand that is one of the oldest in the world. We have to be respectful of that tradition and the exclusivity of that is crucial.” He said.

That same luxury sensibility informs the way that Rolls both interacts with their clients and designs their cars. In fact they often pair with other luxury brands to run marketing events together. According to Müller-Ötvös, Rolls-Royce exchanges marketing with companies like luxury jewelery and watch maker Richemont and luxury brand LVMH because they want to learn how the market is developing and share clients across brands.

Those partnerships however, don’t stop Rolls from thinking about keeping the brand relevant to the younger generation.  According to the executives at the breakfast, a marketing employee cooked up the idea to market the Wraith to a younger generation by introducing it in Forza 5 and so far the reception has been stellar.

“We are taking the brand through a contemporization and making it more touchable and approachable,” said Richard Carter, Director of Communications for Rolls-Royce.

And yes, as you probably know,Rolls is working on an SUV.

Müller-Ötvös said, “Rolls-Royce customers are buying a piece of art when they buy our cars. The SUV market has become a credible market for the brand and our customers have expressed a clear interest in them.”

For my review of the Rolls-Royce Wraith for CNNMoney, click here or check it out below.


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Abigail Bassett

Abigail Bassett is a full-time freelance journalist, content creator, and television, video, and podcast host whose work has appeared in publications like TechCrunch, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, Fortune, Motor Trend, Shondaland, Money Magazine, and on CNN. Her passion is telling unique stories that change the way we see, interact with, and relate to the world. She is also a Yoga Alliance Registered 500-hour yoga teacher.

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