In the spirit of ecstasy
For a fitting 15th anniversary celebration of Dubai landmark Burj Al Arab, Rolls-Royce recently announced that a specialised fleet of its prized Phantom Series II vehicles would be made available to the seven-star establishment, recognising the hotel’s lengthy commitment to – shall we say – the finer things in life.
Esquire met the man behind the most luxurious wheel in the world, Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös, and discussed the brand’s place in the Middle East, its vision for the future and why some customers really want diamond-encrusted bonnet ornaments.
Rolls-Royce are renowned for making elite cars but in a world where vehicles can be made considerably cheaper and almost as good, do you rely on the brand’s heritage for sales?
I certainly wouldn’t say “almost as good”, you can’t get class without it being expensive. Don’t quote us as being arrogant, definitely not, we are just convinced about what we are doing here and what kind of substance we are offering.
It takes at least 800 hours to build a Rolls-Royce and can go up to 1,500 or 1,600 hours depending on what you are commissioning. You sit together with our designers and you commission a car that carries your signature. It’s like a piece of art in that respect and that’s what makes it so unique.
We are talking to people who wear wrist watches worth half a million dollars. They are fascinated by mechanical engineering, by precision, by rare things, by something others don’t have, that’s the story we are creating here.Do your customers here have any particular preferences?
Every car is highly bespoke. For instance, every car carries family crests; people here are really fond of certain tribal patterns, family patterns, and they put them into their cars. I think historically and culturally this whole region is very much into transportation, from camels to the fascination with very expensive horses.
Our biggest markets are the United States and China, with the Middle East at number three – accounting for close to 20 percent of our total billing worldwide, which is substantial. Our dealers tell us that the Rolls-Royce is seen as precious, like a horse or camel. It’s far removed from what you would normally hear when people talk about their cars.
What exactly can people do with the bespoke process?
Everything. Well, apart from asking us to do something like taking the airbags out of the car! We had a request where someone asked if he could replace the passenger airbag with a cigar humidor. We said, “Sorry, unfortunately that isn’t possible, but we have another idea where we can place your humidor.”
We have jewellery boxes, safe boxes, starlight headliners with 1,360 glass-fibre cables woven into the headliner, giving the impression you are sitting under a star-lit sky.
We also get requests in this region for the Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament to be diamond encrusted. Mother of pearl inlays in the panels are also popular and nobody else can do this stuff.
The brand is more than a century old now, but when BMW Group took over the company 12 years ago it completely re-established it, building a new plant in West Sussex, England.
The first Phantom to come onto the market was followed by the Phantom Drophead Coupé, Phantom Coupé, Ghost and now the Wraith. Now, we are on our fourth consecutive record year and I’m very optimistic that we will have a fifth record year in 2015.
How much credit do you take for this rise in the brands success?
I wouldn’t say that I reinvented the idea of Rolls-Royce, what I did was re-launch Mini, and for that reason I saw a way to operate another brand within the BMW group. I think what we have done is to shift the brand into a direction that I would call “cool”, rather than luxury. So-called ultra-high-net worth individuals, who are able to spend 30 million a year, are becoming younger and younger, and that’s money generated by their own enterprises, not inherited money.
We see lots of costumers – particularly in Asia – who are still only in their 30s. More and more young customers are emerging here in the Middle East, too, and we’re also seeing an increase in females, particularly in this region, so we are moving the brand with the trend.
What’s the plan moving forward? An electric Rolls-Royce, perhaps?
Well, we launched a prototype car here three years ago but I was a little bit underwhelmed by the reaction of the market. That said, we did gain lots of experience from it through talking to customers and so on. So in that area we would probably focus more now on hybri9ds, which unite both worlds – electric driving and a combustion engine. I think that’s driven not so much by customer demand but by the legal side, and at Rolls-Royce we need to make sure that our customers can enter, for instance, city centres like Beijing or Shanghai in 10 years’ time.
But there aren’t a lot of costumers who are knocking on our door to say, “We have to have a hybrid car!” Nobody needs a Rolls Royce to get from A to B, there are other means of transportation for that. But it’s about delight and spoiling yourself with this kind of a product, where every little detail counts.