Sneak Preview: Rolls-Royce

Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes is highly fit, dapper, and eloquent. But he’s also very cautious with the press. When he revealed over lunch that Rolls-Royce is going to appoint a handful of new dealers, his voice was so hushed you’d think he was about to reveal the access code to Fort Knox. Known as TMOe within the company, the marketing expert joined the brand in the middle of a boom period that saw sales soar to more than 3000 units in 2011, thanks to the highly successful Ghost. The cagey and coy new chairman is the exact opposite of his predecessor, the outspoken and jovial Tom Purves. It took a long meal and a couple glasses of fine sauvignon blanc to coax TMOe into shifting from P to D. In the end, however, he came across as a man with a vision and some strong ideas on how automotive luxury may evolve in the coming decade.

To kick off our session, we asked the following three questions: Will RR do a luxury crossover? Will there be a banzai premium city car like the Aston Martin Cygnet? What about a third model line positioned below the Ghost?

Taking the verbal antipasti one by one, Mueller-Oetvoes started with the lowest-calorie item. “We won’t do a car below the Ghost. Such a model would overstress the potential of our factory and of our dealer body, and it would also extend the brand in a direction we are not ready for. Midterm, 10,000 units is the absolute ceiling for Rolls-Royce. I would also say no to an ultra-high-end microcar. It makes no sense to downsize luxury — unless you have a very good reason. The rise of the electric vehicle may provide such a reason. If urban electromobility becomes a must-have in future megacities, it could be logical to offer a Rolls-Royce that meets these needs. After all, the BMW i division will soon have the answers such scenarios require. A crossover? Our future is on-road, not off-road. And while we are at it, the product planners in Goodwood are not working on a diesel-engine Rolls-Royce, either.”

Next year, RR will launch the revised Phantom. In 2013, we should see a coupe version of the Ghost. For 2014, expect a plug-in hybrid adorned with the flying lady. A Ghost softtop may follow in 2015. Might there be more to the RR future model program? “A sports car is a low priority, simply because its credibility is low, at least at present. Exploring a new vehicle category can have its charms, but perhaps less so for Rolls-Royce. You see, we are pretty good at keeping long traditions fresh and attractive.”

Time to wrap this up. We shake hands, wait for our coats, and dash for our cars. The same evening, a friend calls, and soon the conversation circles around to Rolls-Royce. Had I heard about RR6, the proposed sport sedan derived from the Ghost architecture? I hadn’t.

Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes, 51

Personality: A wildly snappy dresser (think body-hugging, bespoke suits and huge Rolls-Royce-emblem cuff links) with a smile as wide and gleaming as a Phantom grille, Mueller-Oetvoes comes across as a German Pierce Brosnan, not a bad image for the CEO of Rolls-Royce.

Major career moves: The twenty-four-year BMW veteran got the Mini brand under way, ran central marketing and brand shaping for BMW, was in charge of global product management, and became CEO of Rolls-Royce in March 2010.

Biggest achievement: Relaunching Mini after having defined its role as brand and product chief.

Claim to fame: Since joining Rolls-Royce, TMOe has begun to expand network, capacity, and portfolio to respond to the booming demand for luxury cars, the shift to new markets, and a growing share of younger buyers.