In 2018 super-luxury car manufacturer Rolls-Royce sold a record 4,107 cars – a huge number when you consider just nine years ago when current CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos arrived, they were selling just 1000 cars.
“There’s nobody selling more cars than Rolls-Royce in the same segment, which we define as cars with a price tag over US$250,000 ($351,501), thanks to the extraordinary number of high net-worth individuals these days. So, it stands to reason there are a lot more people around who can afford a Rolls-Royce than any time in our past”, Muller-Otvos told CarAdvice while in Australia this week.
While the modern-day turnaround for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars kicked off with the Phantom in 2003, these days the brand has a much broader offering with models like the Wraith fastback coupe, the Dawn convertible and the younger skewed ‘Black Badge' versions. The company also released the latest generation Phantom 8 last year, all of which have kept the brand relevant over the last decade.
Phantom is a critical car for Rolls-Royce with no less than 20 per cent of the company’s total volume attributed to its most iconic model thanks in part to a paradigm shift in the market. 10-15 years ago Rolls-Royce was essentially a chauffeur’s brand whereas today it’s very much a driver’s car according to Muller-Otvos.
“Some of that has to do with the reduced age of the average Rolls-Royce customer, which nine years ago when I joined was 56 years old – now it's 43 – which is just extraordinary. It comes down to the fact that it's much, much easier to make serious sums of money these days at an earlier age due to new business models and the ever-changing IT industry in general”, he added.
More impressive still is the fact that the all-new Cullinan ‘high-sided vehicle’ (pictured) as Rolls-Royce like to say, only accounted for a fraction of last year’s sales tally, which has Muller-Otvos already calling 2019, ‘the Cullinan year’, and early indications are that it will be by far the brand’s best-selling model with volumes predicted to climb as high as 50 per cent of the company’s total volume.
Mind, this success comes nearly four years after Rolls-Royce first announced they would be doing a bespoke SUV based on its own platform (Rolls-Royce Luxury Architecture), unlike the Volkswagen Group’s Bentley Bentayga, which launched in 2016 based on the MLB modular architecture shared with the Audi, Lamborghini and Porsche.
We asked Muller-Otvos if he thought Rolls-Royce waited too long before launching its first SUV given the likes of Bentley and Lamborghini already trading well with Bentayga and Urus respectively.
“Rolls-Royce has entered the SUV market at precisely the right time with the market in full swing which has allowed the company sufficient time to ‘get it right’ rather than rushing into the market," he said.
“We needed to get it right, and I think we did that judging by the order bank so far and how well the vehicle has been received by current Rolls-Royce customers and those prospective customers."
“It was vital that we understood the customer’s requirements for a Rolls-Royce SUV, which meant the Cullinan had to be bold enough, reliable enough, practical enough and flexible enough to be considered as a daily driver," he continued.
“This a Rolls-Royce for the family including pets, but it’s also a vehicle to be used for both ski trips and even a night at the Opera. It’s also likely to the be the principal car of the household for the first time in history for us."
For as long as we can remember Rolls-Royce has prided itself on producing the world’s quietest cars, so you’d assume it’s a foregone conclusion that the brand will have no issue making the transformation from turbocharged V12 powered cars to full EVs.
Muller-Otvos told CarAdvice that electrification of its cars is inevitable but only once battery technology is sufficiently advanced for longer range trips for size and weight of all models in the Rolls-Royce range.
Yet, according to Rolls-Royce, electrification isn’t really about refinement and noise suppression “because our V12s are already whisper quiet, so it's about emissions compliance so the cars can enter centre centres and other relevant public venues".
“Just over four years ago we built up a fully electric Phantom and while the customers said it was great, many saw little or no difference to the V12 power we already offer, such was the level of engine refinement and insulation in the car. That’s not to say we are still not working on our internal combustion engine, because in the latest Phantom 8 we have a new V12 engine and it’s even quieter," Muller-Otvos said.
“Let’s put it this way, Rolls-Royce will produce its first full EV in the next decade, which isn’t all that far away. We are working on it, but there’s still plenty to do when it comes to charging infrastructure both at home and in the public domain before we have a workable solution for our customers."