No other car brand embodies exclusive luxury better than Rolls-Royce. For nearly 14 years, Torsten Müller-Ötvös has been steering the fortunes of the British subsidiary of BMW. Much has changed during this time—among customers, vehicles, and attitudes towards luxury itself.
Question: Mr. Müller-Ötvös, you have been the CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars for nearly 14 years. What has changed during this time?
TMÖ: First of all, our customers have changed significantly during this time. When I started, the average age was 56—now it’s 42. But the customers themselves have not only gotten significantly younger; the user profile of a Rolls-Royce has also completely changed. Back then, we had 80% chauffeur-driven vehicles and only 20% self-drivers—today it’s the opposite.
Question: What has caused this change—is it the new markets in Asia or a different view of automotive luxury in general?
TMÖ: Luxury has changed a lot in the past ten years. We, therefore, have an entirely different portfolio to serve customers accordingly. Since the BMW Group took over Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in 1998, there was initially only the Rolls-Royce Phantom for many years. Then came models like the Ghost, Dawn, or Wraith, which appealed to self-drivers and younger customers. A significant rejuvenation came with the introduction of the Black Badge models. Initially, we feared this would attract new customers but alienate existing ones. The opposite is the case. We initially calculated a sales share of 15% for Black Badge models. Depending on the model, we are now at about 40%.
Question: Rolls-Royce was late to jump on the SUV and off-road vehicle bandwagon with the Cullinan. Does a luxury brand like Rolls-Royce need an SUV?
TMÖ: An SUV is now essential in the absolute luxury segment for customer success. Otherwise, customers would choose a model from another manufacturer as was often the case before. We were certainly not the first, but with the Cullinan, we came to the market at the right time. The Cullinan has brought us entirely new customers. It is an absolute family car for everyday use; a Rolls-Royce that can also get dirty once in a while. Now, every second new Rolls-Royce is a Cullinan.
Question: How important is BMW as the parent company behind the British brand Rolls-Royce?
TMÖ: Clearly, without BMW, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars would not exist in its current form. BMW enables us to use technologies that we could not afford with our exclusive production numbers. Unlike other brands, a Rolls-Royce is not a BMW in a different dress; we develop and produce entirely independent models. Our customers appreciate and demand this, as we are in a completely different price segment than BMW.
Question: Unlike other luxury car brands, Rolls-Royce has so far not collaborated with other luxury labels outside the automotive industry. Will this change in the future and could this not attract new and even younger customers?
TMÖ: Of course, we have had collaborations with other luxury brands for many years—but this is highly exclusive and only upon special request. If a customer wants the watch of a specific watch brand built into the dashboard of their Rolls-Royce, we make that possible without advertising it. Our level of customisation knows no limits.
Question: Where do you see the Rolls-Royce brand in the next 10 to 15 years?
TMÖ: We have set the right course and you will see that in the coming years with our new products. Clearly, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars will be electric—with fully electric models and no plug-in hybrids. A Rolls-Royce must drive like only a Rolls-Royce can—whether it is powered by an internal combustion engine or an electric drive. The success of this approach is demonstrated by our first model, the Rolls-Royce Spectre, which has exceeded all expectations.
Question: How important is Goodwood as a location for Rolls-Royce in this context?
TMÖ: Goodwood is both the physical and spiritual home of Rolls-Royce; the only place in the world where we design and hand-craft our unique luxury products. It is much more than just a state-of-the-art production facility and the company headquarters; it offers visitors an immediate introduction to our brand: beautiful, elegant, and impressive, but also creative, lively, and constantly evolving.
Question: Customers in the price segment beyond €300,000 are more demanding than ever. How are customers’ wishes for new models collected?
TMÖ: Our salespeople have a very close relationship with most customers. I have known many of our customers for many years and when I’m on business trips, there are always appointments with customers. This way, you learn about the wishes of the customers and potential customers very precisely.