Torsten Müller-Ötvös, Chief Executive Officer at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars discusses the meaning of luxury and the future of the automotive industry.
The story of Rolls-Royce began back in 1904 when two car enthusiasts Charles Rolls and Henry Royce came together to manufacture a new generation of luxury cars. The company’s first car in 1906, the Silver Ghost, was hailed as the “world’s best car” at the time and set the bar for centuries to come. The company has since become one of the most iconic engineering companies in the world with its cars some of the most recognisable motors that exist today. For many decades the brand focused on chauffeured cars with many high net worth individuals, celebrities and even royalty around the world making a Rolls-Royce their car of choice. Today the car industry may have changed, but the significance and status of owning a Rolls-Royce is perhaps more respected than ever as the brand continues to set an example as an innovator and leader in its field. At the helm of the company is CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. Having been working with Rolls-Royce for over a decade, he has orchestrated one of the brands biggest revivals yet as it has transformed to meet the needs of an ever-changing market and a highly-demanding modern and much younger customer base. Rolls-Royce clients today are looking for so much more than just a car, so it has been crucial for the brand to respond to this in order to stay relevant. This has been done through several ways including the Rolls-Royce bespoke service as well as the recent launch of Spectre; the brand’s first fully-electric car as well as developing new means of connecting with clients and going above and beyond to offer them the finest in service and quality. To find out more about this as well as Rolls-Royce in the Middle East we met with Torsten Müller-Ötvös during a recent visit to Dubai.
Welcome to Dubai, can tell us a little about Rolls-Royce in the UAE and in the Middle East in general?
The Middle East is a very important region for Rolls-Royce because we have what I would call, “a long-standing love relationship” between Rolls-Royce and Middle Eastern clients. It’s something that I think goes back to the 1950s, and for that reason, it is always great for me to be here. I love the culture, I love the people, I love how our clients here commission cars and what kind of flamboyant, stunning colour combinations they choose. I even bet when I see certain cars going down the line at Goodwood, which ones are Middle Eastern cars and I mean that with the highest respect because they are beautiful, highly bespoke cars and for that reason, it is a fantastic region for us. It’s also very inspiring when it comes to cultural themes which are often embedded into the cars, be it pearl diving, or a celebration of certain anniversaries, and it is very inspiring.
Tell us a little about the bespoke offering and how this has become popular especially in the Middle East?
It is very successful on an international level. I would even say Rolls-Royce would not exist without the capability of bespoke. If you are looking to purchase a Rolls-Royce, you will want to make sure that it is your very own piece of art. I think the notion of luxury has changed a lot. Formally it was simply a case of buying a luxury good from the shelf and taking it home with you, however, over the last ten years, this has changed significantly into something that is connected to brand awareness, as well as knowing what is behind the brand and what kind of processes go into making the product and how it can be even more personal and therefore even more exclusive. And that’s exactly what we offer with the bespoke capabilities. Our client’s imagination is their limit and that is not just a marketing line, it is true, and for that reason, it makes us a truly unique brand.
We know you recently unveiled the first Rolls-Royce electric car Spectre – what can you tell us about this car why you decided to launch it now and Rolls-Royce’s commitment to Electrification?
There are many reasons why we created an electric car. The first is that it fits extremely well with the brand. Why? Well, it’s silent, and we like to create silent cars. Electrical engines can deliver what we call “waftability” which is a word we use to describe the feeling of effortless movement that is typical of Rolls-Royce. Funnily enough, Charles Rolls, one of our founders said; “the electric car is perfectly noiseless and clean. There is no smell or vibration, and they should become very useful when fixed charging stations can be arranged. But for now, I do not anticipate that they will be very serviceable – at least for many years to come.” So electric cars go a long way back in our history and in that respect, the prophecy that he made in 1900 is now fulfilled.
But there are many more reasons why we are creating electric cars. We have a lot more and younger clients today and we have hugely rejuvenated the brand over the last ten years. We now have an average customer age of 43 which is even lower than Mini for example, and particularly with very wealthy young clients, we see more people asking the question of if there is any possibility to get an electric Rolls-Royce. It is something that has happened very quickly over the last four or five years so we know now that the client demand is there.
And the third reason is that worldwide there are more legislations being implemented in relation to the use of traditional engines. And it could be that suddenly we see a ban in cities on traditional engines and that would be not good for us. Having a Rolls-Royce is all about arriving in the greatest style when you pull up to your destination, so for that reason, it would be unthinkable that we would suddenly be banned from doing this due to the fact that we didn’t listen early enough. And I can tell you we have listened, so we are fully prepared and we are also, step by step, electrifying our entire portfolio. By 2030 we will be fully electric.
The highly anticipated Black Badge Ghost is now available, tell us about this car and what it means for the brand?
Black Badge Ghost is a very logical consequence of the success story of our Black Badge offering. We were overwhelmed by the stunning success of this line worldwide when we launched it in 2016. I believe Black Badge is one of the main reasons why we now see so many young clients driving our cars and for that reason, it was an obvious choice to create this alter ego of Ghost with this Black Badge Ghost. We launched the car just a couple of weeks ago and I can tell you, the number of orders coming from The Middle East already is mind-bogglingly high. It is fantastic.
Rolls-Royce has successfully created a number of iconic designs – how do you balance keeping these icons alive but also catering for the new generation of customers?
First of all, everyone understands that we have a super-rich history. Rolls-Royce is such a well-known brand internationally that it’s even used as an expression to describe other things that are the best, (“the Rolls-Royce of holidays”, “the Rolls-Royce of houses” etc). So everyone already understands what Rolls-Royce is we don’t need to keep reiterating that too much. We are cherishing the heritage but not overly-cherishing it, because if you do it too much then you might be seen as a little too historic. And for that reason, we have re-invented our entire communication strategy and how we talk about the brand and what it stands for has changed a lot. We have gone from what was formally a chauffeured brand into a self-drive brand with around eighty per cent of all our cars worldwide being self-driven. Yes, Phantom is very often also still used in a Chauffer mode, but interestingly enough not here in the Middle East.
I think the electrification was a very good decision which will also help to keep the brand young and fresh. We have the bespoke service which allows us to cater to all sorts of tastes. And we now have one of the biggest followers of high-ranked celebrities in the world – and it’s not because we are paying them, we would never do that, but they are commissioning their own cars.
What about female owners what is the balance between males and females today?
Worldwide female owners account for 15 per cent of our sales. You may think this is not very high, but ten years ago it was one per cent. Of course, I would love to see it at higher levels and we will definitely see that in the years to come. What we also now see is within the ultra-high-net-worth individuals, far more women are part of that group and with that transition, our percentage numbers have crept up. Here in the Middle East, it’s actually even higher, it’s around 20 per cent.
What is the biggest challenge you face today?
I think it’s what we already mentioned: keeping the brand contemporary. This is a job you need to be thinking about daily. We are living in such fast-moving times that there is no possibility to get sluggish around this.
What is a lesson you have learnt from the global pandemic and is there anything you have changed within the business that will continue moving forward?
One thing that has made us better than ever before is the way we now interact with clients on a digital basis. We even created formats whereby we were able to showcase cars to our clients who usually fly in to visit us. They were very private viewings that still gave a feeling of being deeply connected to us and the designers.
The second lesson would be that nothing sits higher than personal contact, particularly in our business. As much as you go digital and are advanced on that, that personal relationship and in-person interaction can never truly be substituted by anything else. So I am very glad that travel is starting to resume.
What can we expect in the pipeline for 2022?
I foresee 2022 as another record year for us. All of our markets worldwide have the biggest number of orders we have ever seen. So we are keeping very busy! I am very optimistic about next year, given the fact that hopefully nothing occurs again and sets us back, but I don’t foresee that happening.
What in your opinion is the secret to luxury today?
First of all, I think luxury is something very rare. It is something that sits on your soul. It gives you a pleasant feeling. Maybe you experience luxury as a gift to yourself or as a reward or for an extraordinary moment in time. It doesn’t need to be material – it can be a moment – but it can also be a Rolls-Royce commissioned by yourself in Goodwood that will make your dream come true. I think luxury is also a story. It’s not just about buying a product it’s about the story and the whole experience that goes with it. That’s so important for us.
What is something you would still like to achieve with Rolls-Royce?
We recently launched a very unique Coachbuilt “Boat Tail” commission car which has become the most expensive car ever in the history of the world and therefore has become the most famous car in the world. We worked with this client for over four years on this truly unique piece. The client was involved in the entire design process from beginning to end. It was an unbelievable project that had been on my bucket list for many years. So I have in a way now achieved what I wanted to do.
This sector has now become its own brand within our company and we have founded Coachbuild as a permanent fixture in the company. Every second year you will see one of these unbelievable unique one-off masterpieces surfacing worldwide. It is by invitation only, clients can throw as much money on the table as they wish and we are only inviting our top clients to be part of this and we will be handpicking one client each time.
We also created Whispers which is something I am very proud of. It’s the most exclusive members club in the world. It is a mobile application created to meet the demands and tastes of an eclectic network of global Rolls-Royce clients. This luxury eco-system is a members club and you need to own a Rolls-Royce to be part of it. All members worldwide are connected through it and it offers concierge services, we share owner stories, invite them to events, give them access to new openings around the world. It features a lot of content that our clients worldwide can access.
What is a message that you would send to your customers in The Middle East?
It is their custom that keeps us alive and I want to convey a big thank you to all our clients here and it’s great to have you on board.