Mumbai: Richard Carter, director of global communications at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd, says his company’s cars do not compete with other cars. Rather, they vie for money that the wealthy spend on the likes of jewellery, stock portfolios, helicopters and yachts. A wholly-owned unit of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, the English manufacturer of the luxury cars is based at Goodwood in England and even has a flying doctor service to help troubled customers. Carter, who was in Mumbai on Wednesday, spoke in an interview about the company’s plans in a slowing global economy. Edited excerpts:
How is your company faring when the global economy is slowing?
We are not immune to the economic downturn. But we are confident of having a strong year, perhaps a record year, which in these circumstances would be extraordinary. In India, too, the market has been challenging but we’re expecting a good year. Last year, China was our biggest market. This year, the US is running ahead of China, which is facing a tightening of markets. The Middle East, with its petro dollars, is our fastest-growing market.
In the last two years, we grew the business fourfold more with Ghost boosting our sales further. But, yes, the dramatic slowdown in China and weak economy of the US have affected sentiment. In 2011, we sold 3,538 cars globally.
India is an extremely important and emotional market for us. You can’t talk about automotive history in India without talking about Rolls-Royce and vice versa. Wealthy Indians love their Rolls-Royce cars (it has sold around 200 cars since 2005). Our order books for the Phantom Series II are already full. Many of our Indian customers like the Ghost too, especially with the extended wheelbase.
They love to gift them too, especially in the wedding season. We have created a special edition for couples and their parents with their own initials, colours, special messages, etc. It’s been very successful. We would like to have around eight dealers in India by 2012-end and a few more next year. We currently have dealers in Mumbai, Chandigarh, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. In South-East Asia, China is the largest in terms of dealers. And globally, it’s the US with over 20 dealers.
Is your company working towards increasing sales?
As you see from our figures, we are a tiny drop in the ocean of car sales, but a precious drop. Our customers want us to keep Rolls-Royce cars rare. They do not want to see it in every nook and corner. After all, they’re spending a lot of money. The Ghost costs between Rs.2.2 crore and Rs.2.5 crore. The Phantom costs Rs.3.5 crore and upwards. We do not expect our sales to touch five digits annually. That’s mass luxury for us. We’re not interested in it.
How do you view the competition from other luxury brands such as Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Bugatti, Maserati and Porsche?
As we see it, there’s a mass luxury market for cars priced below €200,000. Most of the luxury brands fall in that category. We trade in the over €200,000 segment, where we are the absolute leader. There are quite a number of exotic sport cars and expensive cars that compete with us in this segment. But in terms of the ultra-luxury segment—the salon-type limousine—there’s almost nothing but Rolls-Royce. As we see it, we do not compete with motor cars. Instead, we compete with helicopters, jewellery, property, yachts, stock portfolios—all sorts of things the wealthy desire. Most of our buyers have more than one car anyway.
Does a potential Rolls-Royce customer have distinct traits?
Everyone thinks there is an archetypal Rolls-Royce customer. But there’s simply no such profile. Our customers come from all walks of life and they could be men or women, young or old too. In fact, the world’s youngest customer of Rolls-Royce is right here in Mumbai. But our customers do have one or two defining features. They’re wealthy and highly self-confident people—they’ve built businesses, empires and they absolutely appreciate luxury and handcraftsmanship, the hallmark of every Rolls-Royce car.
How long does it take you delivery a car?
Much depends on the degree of bespoke content (made to a buyer’s specification) in the car. You may want special embroidery, special wood, inlays in the wood, family crests, etc. That could take 3-6 months, sometimes even longer. On average, you can take delivery of a Ghost in 5-6 weeks and a Phantom in 3-4 months.
Our customers get personally involved in the process of buying the car. They either sit with our dealers or even come to our Goodwood plant in England for a day--with our bespoke designers, our leather people, our wood people, etc. We can end up making a car that is as individual as his/her own fingerprint.
Your customers love handcraftsmanship but they also need advanced technologies that are a feature of most luxury cars.
Right from the 1900s, we produced cars that were the most hi-tech cars of their day. We do exactly the same even now. Our cars are full of technology. But our customers want us to hide the technology in the background. So while we have a lot of technology that goes into the cars, a lot of it from our parent--the BMW group, most of that technology is discreetly hidden in the car. Having said that, the purchasers of Phantom wants the ultimate in luxury. The Ghost is more of a driver’s car, hence the technology is more apparent.
How do you pick dealers?
A Rolls-Royce dealer isn’t someone who simply sells cars. He has to be somebody who has a real feel for luxury. Second, he’s got to know where the wealthy people are and has to know them. It’s not about having money and opening a showroom. You have to find the buyers. Our dealers go through extensive training and their technicians come to Goodwood to be able to understand the cars and service them.