LUXURY IN THE HOUSE
Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, paid a flying visit to Qatar for the opening of the brand’s new showroom, introducing its new ‘House of Luxury’ brand identity to the region. FACT seized the chance to chat with the renowned innovator to learn more.
We can see Rolls-Royce as an ultra-luxury brand moving from car manufacturer to luxury experience in all aspects: from the new concept of the showroom and the car designs to the engaging art, luxury goods and the experience itself. Do you think this is the future for Rolls-Royce, taking it from a car manufacturer to a luxury lifestyle experience for customers? How will Rolls-Royce manage to achieve this, both now and in the future?
Experience is the name of the game today. Clients aren’t attracted by sheer product any longer. People want to understand the background of the brand… How do we build these masterpieces? How do we train our craftspeople? How do we define luxury? Part of the whole idea of the ‘House of Luxury’ is to deliver new levels of experience to our clients – to explain what Rolls-Royces are all about. When we sit together, specifying, commissioning and bespoking the car, I think that is truly important. A Rolls-Royce isn’t something that you buy every Friday afternoon; it’s something you’ve thought about for a while. And when you get together with our designers, it’s like painting a masterpiece and an experience you will never forget. Your imagination is our limit. (The only exception is that if you asked us to remove, say, airbags and install a humidor instead. This is not possible.) The new showroom enables us to become a full House of Luxury that starts in Goodwood when we welcome clients and show them what it means to build a Rolls-Royce. But we can’t invite everyone to Goodwood, which is why we’ve developed this showroom concept, inspired by other luxury brands around the world.
The new Doha showroom is part of the gradual global unveiling of a new visual language across major showrooms around the world. Please explain the ethos and reasoning behind the new concept and who it is designed to attract. Why is it important to bring that new visual identity to Qatar? What makes this market important for the brand? And how do you think Qatar will receive this new luxury design language?
Qatar is a very important market for us. It’s developed in an astonishing way over the last few years. So, I’m very proud that they are the first in the Middle East region to incorporate the new visual identity. The reason we decided to start in Doha was because it’s a booming market for us – extremely professionally looked after by our partner in Doha, the Al Fardan company. The Pearl Showroom was opened in 2009 and now our partner is taking it to a new level for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
Having taken over as CEO of Rolls-Royce in 2010, you are credited with turning the brand around and achieving an impressive 400% increase in sales worldwide. To what do you attribute this success – how did you go about changing the perception of the marque and attracting a fresh audience?
I think we directed the brand to be far more contemporary, younger and – allow me to say – cooler than it used to be 12 years ago. The average age of our clients, for example, is now 43, compared to 56 or 57 when I joined the company. And that’s worldwide, including the Middle East, where we see very young clients. When I joined, women made up just 1% buyers; now it’s 15%. Interestingly, about 80% of our clients are business people, while 20% are celebrities, quite an eclectic mix! Social-media activities, particularly of our celebrity clients, using Rolls-Royce to showcase their own personality, have fertilised the brand in a new way. Then there’s the Black Badge – I call it the darker side of the brand, the alter-ego if you like. This also helped to lower the average age and bring completely new clients into our brand. Younger clients needed a different product – a product that’s not chauffeur-driven. Rolls-Royce used to be very much a chauffeur-driven brand. Now, over 80% of our clients are behind the wheel themselves. But you always need to keep your finger on the pulse. The last thing you want to do is rest on your laurels.
The first quarter of this year has seen Rolls-Royce produce its best sales figures on record. How has this been achieved coming out of a global pandemic and do you believe it is also connected with the additional options you have given customers, such as Coachbuild and its latest iteration in the form of Boat Tail?
We’re also very surprised by the fast recovery after the Covid blip. I would assign it to a couple of factors. One is that during the lockdowns, people were able to accumulate money. Later, they spent this money on luxury goods. The second factor is that I think people changed their mindset during Covid times. They saw that life can be short and for that reason it’s better to live now than to postpone it. Both of these reasons helped to fuel our business. Today, we are sitting on orders that reach far into 2023. If you order a Black Badge car today, you’ll wait until September or October next year. It’s also a testament to bespoke Coachbuild. We’ve invested quite heavily, particularly in pandemic times, into new ideas around bespoke and it’s always about fuelling the imaginations of our clients. Just to give you one example, the starlight headliner in our car – this is now available in shooting stars. It’s a musthave. You can’t sit in a car without shooting stars. The Starlight Headliner gives you the impression of sitting under the night sky – 1,350 fibre optics that sparkle. This sort of thing has given clients food for thought.
Coachbuild is slightly different. It’s not intended to be, profitwise, a big part of our business. Instead, Coachbuild underlines the capabilities of the brand. It harks back to the old times, in the 1920s and ‘30s, where every Rolls-Royce was coachbuilt. The chassis came from Rolls-Royce and the client commissioned the body, together with the coachbuilder. This idea is now back. It’s a trip that takes five years – an unbelievable, moneycan’t-buy adventure, because it’s by invitation only. You are with us on day one, when the designers sit and design the car based on what you would like to see, and then you are part of the process. You need to bring time. You will sign off the design. You’ll be allowed to shake the clay of the clay model. That obviously fuels the imagination, fuels the romanticism of the brand and fuels the idea that the sky is the limit.
It’s a division which is 120 people, only doing bespoke – engineers, designers, craftspeople who are able to do the most eclectic things. That’s the reason why I said in the beginning that you need to come and take a chance. You will not tour an automotive factory. You’re touring a luxury plant and when you see how delicately we are doing things, what kind of crafts we are cherishing in our organisation, it’s mindboggling. And I think that is Rolls-Royce.
The Boat Tail is a car that is unseen on Earth. It is now the most expensive new car ever built in the history of the automotive industry. And that is right for the brand. These kinds of statements underline what this brand stands for – the best, the pinnacle.
Do you think luxury changes from one generation to another? For example, my father’s definition of luxury would be very different from my daughter’s. How is Rolls-Royce addressing this coming generation?
Yes, definitely. One hundred per cent. We are constantly in contact with our clients, especially the younger ones, finding out what might be in or out in a couple of years. But not everything that you might want to offer in the future comes from your creative clients. You also need to develop your own ideas. And we do that. We bring that all together. I think we also need to lead the market. We are the pinnacle brand. We bring things into the market that our clients might not have thought about. So, for that reason, in 10 years, when the brand is fully electric and luxury again looks very, very different from today, rest assured, we will still be leading the market.
Earlier this year, Rolls-Royce announced the new fullyelectric Spectre. How is it possible to engineer and adapt such high-end vehicles to be chargeable while maintaining the luxury experience?
When Rolls-Royce brings a product onto the market, it’s perfect. And this will hold true for all of the electric RollsRoyces to come. First of all, it’s a Rolls-Royce. Secondly, it’s an electric Rolls-Royce. And not the other way round. So, for that reason, rest assured that battery capacity and things like range or charging time will be completely sufficient for our clients. We also know that our clients hardly ever drive long mileages – their journeys are very much round cities. All our clients have quite impressive houses too. Many of them already have charging facilities at home for electric cars. This will be the quietest Rolls-Royce ever built – electrification and electric propulsion fits perfectly with the brand. It’s silent. It’s torque-y. And that’s exactly what Rolls-Royce is about. It’s clear that electric is, particularly in the high-end sector, the long-term future.
The brand has committed to going fully-electric by 2030, how do you plan to achieve this? Will traditional engines still be available for those who want them?
Not after 2030. Every car we build after 2030 will be electric. There will obviously be internal combustion engine Rolls-Royces for many years to come, but we will not build them anymore. ✤