March 1, 2011: Torsten Müller-Ötvös- CEO Rolls Royce Motor Cars
In an exclusive interview with Hormazd Sorabjee and Sumantra Barooah, the CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars speaks about the electric 102EX and the Indian markets potential.
What plans do you have for the electric 102EX revealed at Geneva. Will it see production?
We have no plans to bring that car into production. Moreover, we have not thought about that at all because it is mainly a test bed and a market research tool, if you like, and that’s the reason why we thought about such a car.
Would you ever consider a diesel Rolls-Royce?
I can’t expect a diesel engine because that depends very much on the refinement. Our customers clearly tell us they can’t imagine a diesel-powered Rolls-Royce. There is another reason why I don’t see a diesel car happening. When you look into the potential markets on the board, our biggest market is North America, another major market is China; the Asian markets are very important and in many of those markets, one doesn’t have diesel. Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to make a diesel car. Europe is quite an intense market for diesel cars but it is not our major market.
In terms of powertrains, do you see Rolls-Royce going towards more eco-friendly options like full electric or fuel cell technology?
We already have the most eco-friendly engine in the segment. The 102EX is exactly a test bed and we want to use it to start discussions about what exactly could be the right alternative drivetrain. That’s because our customers are unbelievably discerning and do not accept compromises. For those reasons, we need to make sure that potential technology is right for them. Would they buy such a car? Yes and no.
Do you think the love affair with the car is not as strong in mature markets like in emerging markets where it is considered a status symbol. Sometimes even in America, it is cooler to be seen in a hybrid.
I cannot say that we have seen fantastic growth last year in the North American market. The Ghost is the right answer for the time because I think it’s the more subtle way to drive a Rolls-Royce. It is definitely the self-driver’s car and is used by many of our customers as a daily commuter car for business purposes. So I can’t say that a hybrid is cooler to be seen in but I would even say that that wave is coming down already. A recent article in USA Today suggests that luxury goods are coming back and customers are willing to pay money.You said that in India, a new generation of customers with new money has emerged. So it’s not the heritage aspect which is appealing. What is your understanding of Indian consumers?A lot of self-entrepreneurs and young self-entrepreneurs, who have set up their own business successfully, say: "I deserve something and I want to reward myself". They then go in for a Rolls-Royce — the perfect symbol for success.
Does heritage play a role at all in India? Does the maharaja-Rolls-Royce connection work or is the appeal of a Rolls, its brand, refinement and luxury?
The heritage is extremely important and I am saying that because we are currently celebrating 100 years of the Spirit of Ecstasy. People are asking about the Spirit of Ecstasy, what’s there behind this nice little sculpture and this shows how interesting automotive history is for people here. What is also very important for our customers is the quality level, the precision, craftsmanship, how we do wood, leather, and all these things are very much important for Rolls-Royce.
What are your plans for India over the next two to three years?
We wish to expand our network and that is why I am here. Our current feeling is that we should see expansion both in the northern and southern parts of the country. We have not taken a decision on the exact location.
Is last year’s growth rate in India sustainable?
We won’t see 600 percent this year but will definitely see sustainable growth for the Indian market in the next few years. I am also quite convinced that we should see a three-digit number next year here in the Indian market.
What is the expected sales split between the Ghost and the Phantom?
That varies from country to country. In India, we see more Phantoms compared to Ghosts worldwide. I would put the figure for India at at least 35 percent Phantoms. Globally, the Phantom contributes 25 percent to sales.
What challenges do you face in India in terms of roads?
I would say we have a bigger advantage here. Some roads are really not proper but then you have the most refined drivetrain you can buy for money currently. Our brand promise is the magic carpet ride when you drive a Rolls-Royce and it also works truly on the worst roads.
With Indian automotive suppliers climbing the quality curve, more and more high-end carmakers are looking at sourcing from India. Is it so for Rolls-Royce also? Like for the Phantom, the wood is sourced from Kerala.
Not yet. We are always looking into that regularly as also quality standards. Here I would like to go with BMW. Everything that helps BMW, also helps us. It doesn’t make sense to set up a separate Rolls-Royce purchasing office here.
China bought 600 RRs, India bought 80 last year. Many other luxury carmakers here are of the belief that India perhaps could grow to be neck to neck with China. What’s your opinion?
it also depends quite a lot on infrastructure, how quick the roads are being built because this is also what I currently see in China. China is pushing on the infrastructure – to build better roads – and all that helps the automotive business a lot.
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