Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO, Rolls-Royce shares his thoughts on the Phantom 8, upcoming Cullinan and going electric. Mayank Singh reports
Rolls-Royce unveiled its new Phantom in 2017, after a gap of 14 years. How has the response been since then?
It has been received very well and as you can imagine it is quite a remarkable moment in history for us. It is the second Phantom under the ownership of the BMW Group. The first one was the Phantom 7. I am very glad about how the Phantom has been received worldwide and in the Middle East where there are a lot of loyal Phantom clients. We have a strong order bank. If you were to order a Phantom today in the region you will take delivery near Christmas.
Is Rolls-Royce trying to appeal to a new target group with the Phantom 8?
Phantom 8 is first in all the latest technology. You will find everything that money can buy in the latest Phantom. We have challenged ourselves to new levels with things like the magic carpet ride and the car carries an all-wheel steering, which is another first for us. The Phantom is very much a car that can be driven by the owners themselves and it is no longer a purely chauffeur driven car, which the Phantom 7 had been to a certain extent. The Phantom 8 is remarkably agile and nimble. Year after year our endeavour is to get a younger clientele worldwide because the ultra-high networth individuals, who are our clientele are getting younger by the day. That is a trend that we are witnessing for a while, probably for the last 8-10 years. We have seen the same in the Middle East and hence we brought the Race which is a fast paced coupe into the market. Black Badge is another very important step when it comes to addressing a completely new younger customer. I would not be surprised if I see younger customers driving a Phantom 8.
The Phantom 8 is expected to take bespoke to the next level. Give us an insight into what is on offer?
Rolls-Royce is all about bespoke and it is about fulfilling customer dreams. Customers want to own things that are truly unique. The idea of the gallery was born when Giles Taylor, our design director, was looking at customer pictures with art on the walls of their homes and then someone came up with the idea that it would be great to position art in Rolls-Royce. Customers ask us often, “Why can’t my favourite artist be a part of my bespoke experience in a Rolls-Royce.” And so far we have not had a chance to do so and but now you can select your own artist, bring them together with our bespoke team and we are going to have a gallery that is unseen and unheard of. Then there is the Starlight Headliner, which customers can get in their own private constellation. We are not offering you new options but a promise called – we don’t disappoint you. Your dream and your imagination is our limit and that’s what Rolls-Royce is all about.
What kind of numbers do you expect to sell worldwide in 2018?
We have always sold around 4,000 cars per annum. Last year we sold less as we did not have a new Phantom onboard. Now the new Phantom has come into the market and customer deliveries started in January 2018. I am looking at this year optimistically. We should see around 4,000 sale levels and it should sit at higher levels compared to a year ago.
Your three biggest markets are the US, Middle East and China. While the US and China have been growing Rolls-Royce, sales in the Middle East has been stagnating or declining. Can you reverse this with the new Phantom?
Probably we cannot reverse the trend overnight in the Middle East as it is a market which is in a more challenging situation due to the fall in oil prices. This has influenced the luxury segment as a whole. I am confident about this market going back to old levels. It will not happen tomorrow, but probably day after tomorrow, because in general this region is highly prosperous and all the decisions being made by governments and investors will make sure that the Middle Eastern economies are on the right path for a sustainable future and once that is the case, we will see an increase in business.
Which are your other big markets apart from the US, Middle East and China? Is Rolls-Royce attracting customers in emerging and new markets?
We are witnessing growth all over the world. The growth of ultra-high networth individuals is not only happening in Asia but also in the US. We are seeing the same happening in UK – our home market. The reason behind that is that there are so many industries, new sectors of business where you can make a fortune. We see people investing cleverly in new areas of business and as a result you have younger ultra-high networth individuals. As a result, year-on-year we have seen a decrease in the average age of our customers.
Rolls-Royce manufacturing plant in Goodwood, UK has undergone a complete change. Take us through the changes that have taken place at the facility?
Phantom 8 sits on a completely new architecture. We call it the architecture of luxury. The new architecture of luxury will be the base for all future models, so Cullinan will be the second model sitting on the architecture of luxury followed by the all new Wraith and Ghost derivatives. A huge investment went into the new architecture at Goodwood where we converted the production system into a one line system which integrated bespoke capabilities in an even smarter way than we have done in the years before, giving customers higher choices now.
Cullinan will be Rolls-Royce’s first SUV, when is it expected to be launched in the market and what was the rationale behind venturing into this space?
The car will be launched this year and the first deliveries for dealers may probably happen towards the end of this year with customer deliveries happening from 2019 onwards. The car follows exactly one year after the Phantom 8. The reason why we moved into this segment is manifold. SUV is a growing segment. It is 50 per cent of the total world car market and it will also be a part of the ultra-high networth individual segment as customers are getting younger and they are looking for something that is casual, easy to drive and a vehicle that can be used as a daily car. These all-round capabilities are a reason why we decided to get into this segment. Rest assured that it will be the Rolls-Royce of SUVs.
How are you going to blend premium luxury of Rolls-Royce with off-roading capabilities?
When you look back in the history of Rolls-Royce, you might be surprised to find four-wheel driven and off-road cars particularly in the beginning of the 20th century. You can see these when Lawrence of Arabia went through the Middle East and in India where there were cars for Maharaja tiger hunts, equipped with off-road capabilities. So we have a legacy in this field. When you do an SUV it needs to be done in a proper manner. So rest assured that the Cullinan will be fully capable of going off road capabilities whilst maintaining the brand promise of a Rolls-Royce which is a magic carpet ride.
Can customers expect an electric drive-train in a Rolls-Royce in future and if yes, when?
Yes, we are looking at such a variant in the next decade. On the one hand, we may be driven by the regulatory side in some countries to move into the electric field. It is not being currently driven by customers, but that too might happen in the next decade. I want to prepare Rolls-Royce to be future proof by moving into electrification. The combustion engine will continue to be an important part of the Rolls-Royce drive-train but we will introduce electrification in parallel.