Dubai: Those highly customised, spanking new Rolls-Royce models you see on UAE roads sure make a statement. And nowhere more so than in the carmaker’s 2012 global tally, with its Abu Dhabi importer taking second place behind the one in Beijing for the number of models sold during the year. Another regional importer - in Saudi Arabia - also played a part, coming in fifth and just behind those in Shanghai and Beverley Hills.
In fact, Rolls-Royce continues to be on a roll, racking up record sales for a third successive year. In 2012, the British marque sold 3,575 cars worldwide, up a marginal 1 per cent from 2011’s 3,538 units. Among individual regions, the Middle East was ranked fourth behind the US, China and Europe as the brand’s key markets.
Torsten Muller-Otvos, Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, was in the UAE to bask in the after glow of the upbeat numbers and offer an insight into what is coming.
Gulf News: Middle East markets delivered a 26 per cent increase in sales for Rolls-Royce in 2012 and there was also the improving numbers from Saudi Arabia. Is Saudi Arabia going to be the breakout market this year?
Torsten Muller-Otvos: Let’s wait and see. Currently, UAE in total is our biggest market and that might change in the years to come. It’s my feeling that our potential in Saudi Arabia is, by far, not explored yet.
I would say the permission to own a Rolls in Saudi Arabia is getting better and better, Many people are now interested in owning one.
Gulf News: Your ‘Bespoke Programme’ (where Rolls owners can go in for extensive fittings and add-ons according to their fancies) has seen a significant take-up in the UAE. Do you believe the brand has achieved as much as is possible from the Programme?
Torsten Muller-Otvos: Bespoke for me is something new where we are able to deliver what customers are asking for in different areas. The Phantoms in the Middle East are highly bespoke cars; I can say the same for the Ghost models. In the Middle East, it would be difficult to go even further because every car is already highly bespoke.
Our Abu Dhabi dealer is fantastic at doing that and even overwhelming Goodwood with new bespoke ideas. What we need to do is expand the Programme due to rising demand in the other countries. But the Middle East had always been one of the most successful.
Gulf News: Does it worry you that Rolls only managed a 1 per cent year-on-year increase in 2012 compared with 31 per cent a year before?
Torsten Muller-Otvos: I’m not interested in explosive growth, but sustainable growth. Don’t forget, especially in 2010, the numbers came on the back of a completely new product, the Ghost. For that reason you can’t see high growth year and year.
In 2012, economies were in a critical shape. Some showed a considerable slowdown in demand, (while) others saw fantastic growth and one of those was the Middle East.
People were a little bit hesitant to go in for a new high-end luxury car knowing the economy is not doing well. Many of our clients are successful entrepreneurs and when they see their companies affected by the economic crisis, it’s not probably not the right time to buy a super-luxury car.
Gulf News: The US has returned to be the top Rolls market again. Do you feel the old rankings are reasserting themselves?
Torsten Muller-Otvos: The US is always a strong market for Rolls-Royce and accounts for 30 per cent of total volumes. That market came back strongly at the end of the year after the election happened. There was more clarity in the economy.
Last year China (which came in second among regions) was slower for us. I would call it hesitation (on the buyers’ part) was very much due to the expected change in government. The new government is in place - everybody now knows what is going on. The overall economic forecast for China is 8-9 per cent and that makes me optimistic for further growth.
Gulf News: But Rolls still managed to attain three successive years of record sales - doesn’t that make a case for super-luxury cars being untouched by economic cycles?
Torsten Muller-Otvos: I do not agree. What we have experienced is our business is close to what happens in the economy. Globally we are well-balanced and not the whole world is falling apart.
Our product planning is not related to economic cycles because you can’t forecast them in a proper way. Our product cycles are very much related to when we think it’s right to renew products and also from an internal economical standpoint.
I am not in situation where I have a huge plant, the contrary is the case. For that reason we invested last year a considerable amount on plant extension in Goodwood to make sure we could cope with the bespoke business, which has gone up dramatically in the last two years.
Our brand is highly exclusive, probably the most well-known luxury brand in the world. You don’t want to see a Rolls at every single street corner.