If a man could embody the absolute essence of a car company, Tom Purves would be a Rolls-Royce. The new Rolls-Royce that is: Supremely elegant, powerful, iconoclastic, the epitome of entrepreneurial success. How perfect, then, that Purves is its managing director having served a wildly successful run as head of BMW North America’s glory years. He is perhaps one of maybe two executives who have continued to work within the BMW Group past the mandatory sixty-years-old age of retirement.
It is expected that Purves will be retiring very shortly, perhaps at the end of this year, as the Rolls-Royce Ghost — the car he promised to bring to market — launches. On the eve of our first drive in this smaller, more nimble Rolls-Royce, Jean Jennings shares a bit of dinner conversation with Tom Purves.
“BMW invested in Rolls-Royce and in 1998, built the Goodwood plant. It was important for the BMW Group that it knew what a Rolls-Royce was all about. Last year, we had record sales: we sold 12,000 cars. With the Ghost, we are in the business of probably trebling what we are already doing. And we’re not straining production at Goodwood. If anything we are using it more efficiently.
“We’ve not laid anyone off. We have used the flextime system, knowing that the Ghost was coming.; We have 1600 seriously intending customers. This is much stronger than we intended sixteen months ago. Eighty percent of these people have never been in a Rolls-Royce before. Many of them never even thought of a Rolls-Royce before and they are coming from Ferrari, and S Class, and Bentley owners.; We are the epitome of aspiration. People dream of owning a Rolls.
“This job is like being a concierge. No one ever really needs a Rolls. Our number one customer, the man who bought the first Phantom, likes to come in and sit down for a chat. If I didn’t take the time to sit down and talk to him, it would be a bit of a disaster, I tell you; I mean, he had the balls to buy the first one.
“It was always our intent to build a smaller, more agile car.; I received two letters at the beginning, one from Australia from the Australian Rolls-Royce Owners Club and one from America, from the American Rolls Royce Owners Club. They both asked me if we knew what we were doing, making a new Ghost.
“I have two points: first, the first Ghost was a pivotal product in the history of the car’s slogan, “The Best Car in the World.”; The original Ghost was so much better than any car that came before it, than any Rolls that came before it. It established Rolls-Royce and we are now reestablishing it with this management. We are showing that we understand what Rolls-Royce is all about. There is a formality about the Phantom, a status that reserves it for certain occasions. The original Ghost was extremely expensive, but it became and armored car, a landaulette, a touring body, a limousine, a torpedo-bodied tourer. It won the Tourist Trophy, it won the Spanish Grand Prix in its day.”
“The new Ghost is clearly not as ubiquitous. Today there are perfectly good ambulances and pickup trucks. But it has an agility and an informality that is appropriate without losing its status, and will secure the business of the Rolls-Royce Motorcar Company.
“You will be the judge, but I am extremely proud of what we’ve done. Any Rolls-Royce should have presence and status. Internally, it should cosset you. We are straddling two worlds: the auto theater and the theater of life. Your arrival and departure is as important as the journey itself. That’s why coach doors are so important. This is the modern interpretation.
“Many of our customers are car fans, but many are not. I talked to a woman customer in Malaysia about the Ghost. She said “Now I can have a daily driver with my Phantom.”