The phantom returns

PAQPAQ recently visited the Rolls Royce factory in Goodwood, UK, to view the process required to produce the world’s most prestigious cars and to take a look at the factory extension that was needed to make space for a new model, codenamed RR4, which will be unveiled next year. Rolls Royce Director for Communications, Graham Biggs, spoke to TONIO DARMANIN.

In 1998 BMW took custody of potentially the most prestigious brand in the world and in 2003 the first Phantom was delivered. What actually took place during that period?

We had a very busy spell of four and a half years, a very short time to essentially start from scratch and create a new business, to design and develop a brand new car from scratch, find a location for a new factory, design, develop and build it and then commission it for production, recruit a whole workforce and train them, we had no staff so we had to recruit everyone who came here, train them to a standard where they can produce the very best car in the world and finally create a network of dealers around the world to serve our customers.

That was a huge amount of work to do over such a short period of time. It all happened and this was part of the agreement when we took over the Rolls Royce brand including a new car by January 2003 and we did on the stroke of midnight on 1 January 2003 we delivered the first Phantom to the first customer. There was a party here!

Business has been good and production figures are increasing.
Is this according to expectations?

We sold 1,010 cars last year. We were pleased with this since we recorded a sales increase of 25 per cent over the previous year. That is a huge growth and even though the overall numbers are small, our business model is set to work towards those numbers. It is a special car and every single one is tailor-made for the individual needs of our customers.

How flexible is Rolls Royce in tailoring each specific vehicle?

We have to be extremely flexible. Very few cars that go out of the factory doors are the same as any other car unless the customer specifically wants that. For example, if you consider paintwork, we have 25,000 different shades of paint for customers to choose from. Really, the only limitation is their imagination and customers come with all sorts of ideas and sit down with our designers and engineers to design a plan how to achieve that.

Traditionally, Rolls Royce never had a very wide range of models simultaneously but now we are looking at a period where the range is increasing. What does the present line-up include?

The number of models is increasing; we started with the Phantom, then launched an extended wheelbase model which gave more legroom in the back. More dramatically, last year, we unveiled and launched the Drophead Coupé the convertible two-door car and later this year we will launch the Phantom Coupé. So by the end of this year, we will have four Phantom models in the line-up.

An impressive 1,010 models sold last year. How were these split up by model?

About 25 per cent were the new Phantom Drophead. This is quite substantial when considering that we started from zero. We had a fantastic reaction to that car and have a huge waiting list of customers who have ordered one. If you order a Drophead today, you will have to wait till the end of 2009. We are trying to build as many cars as we can, the rest of the sales were Phantom four-door models.

There is quite a bit of activity here at the factory, not only in relation to the building of cars but also alterations and extensions to the factory itself. Seems space is being made for something new?

We are going through a stage of major development at the Goodwood plant and it is all about creating more capacity for a new model that we will bring to market at 2010 codenamed RR4. This will be a new model range that will sit alongside Phantom although slightly smaller still a very large and substantial car. It will be priced slightly lower than the Phantom. Just as the Drophead and now the Coupé are bringing new customers to the Rolls Royce brand, broadening the appeal, we know the RR4 will continue to do that. Rolls Royce will always remain a highly exclusive brand.

Talking about customers, is there a typical customer for this brand?

It is very hard to generalise our customers as they come from all walks of life. What they have in common is success; they were successful, they made money, and enjoy the lifestyle that money allows them to have and they like to surround themselves with the best things in life. Most often they are businessmen and entrepreneurs, but we also have film stars, sports stars, musicians, people from the entertainment business or celebrities. The majority of our customers are successful businessmen who have made their money usually in small to medium sized companies.

Recently it has been announced that your Chairman and CEO has been appointed to the BMW board. What effect will that have on your operation?

It is excellent for Ian Robertson and it is wonderful that there will be the first British person appointed to the BMW board. This is a reflection that Rolls Royce has been seen as an important and successful part of the BMW portfolio. Ian will remain Chairman of Rolls Royce so he will continue in his new role as sales and marketing head of the whole group while a new CEO will take over the day-to-day running of Rolls Royce.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on June 2, 2008
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