Every little detail counts; nothing can be left to chance. For my first test at the Rolls-Royce White Glove chauffeur training program, chief instructor Andi McCann has prepped our training vehicle, a pewter-metallic Phantom, with 10 irregularities and imperfections no professional chauffeur would tolerate. I have exactly two minutes to find all of the faults: the twisted seat belt, the seat heater accidentally set on max, the ill-matching adjustment angle of the rear seat backs, the greasy fingerprints on one air vent, the empty water bottle in the drinks cabinet, the cigarette butt in the ashtray, the out-of-alignment passenger sun visor, the dirty floormat, the half-open rear window curtain, and the distant buzzing noise from the improperly muted radio. His Highness would have been pleased with me.
That is, until I take a turn at the wheel. Although I purposely wore shoes with thin leather soles for maximum sensitivity (rubber soles are the No. 1 no-go of the trade), my driving style proves not nearly smooth enough. Braking turns out to be particularly tricky: too early, too late, too hard. I manage to do it all. My operating rhythm is seldom in sync with the master’s expectations. I go too fast, corner too hard, turn in too aggressively. The verdict: a clear thumbs-down.
The White Glove program was introduced in 2012 in Hong Kong. North America followed suit in 2013, and this year it has set up in Europe. The curriculum consists of three elements. Phase I covers the fundamentals of chauffeurdom as well as everything you need to know about the car, which is generally a Phantom or a Ghost. Surprisingly, there is a lot to be learned about the hardware—a whole chapter deals with the change from hydraulic power steering to today’s electrically assisted unit and how this affects one’s driving style. Phase II introduces the helmsman-to-be to the finer points of etiquette, explains the safety features of the vehicle, and details the procedures recommended in case of an accident or an assault. Phase III puts the candidate to the test. Does he park the car parallel to and at the correct distance from the curb with the front wheels pointed straight? Is there enough room at both ends of the vehicle for passengers to pass through comfortably? Can he execute a swift three-point turn in a confined space?
And then there are all the unwritten rules. Such as carrying the luggage to and from the Rolls-Royce instead of rolling it, which might pick up dirt that can soil the trunk’s carpeting. Such as asking the client whether he wants the door to be opened and closed for him. Such as always helping a lady into and out of the car. “The arrival process can be quite complex,” says McCann. “For a start, the doors must remain locked until the vehicle comes to a halt. When there is only one guest aboard, a curbside exit is obviously safer and quicker. When there are two passengers, the chauffeur should assist the second person and protect him from traffic. Although paparazzi are a nuisance, their target can be effectively protected by the umbrella in the door panel. Pop it open, and all the camera will likely catch is a lock of hair.”
Kacher gets to know the Rolls before practicing anti-paparazzi umbrella procedures.
And what about looking the part? What’s the correct dress code? “There is no such thing,” says McCann. No white gloves? “They are impractical, old-fashioned, and of merely symbolic value,” he replies. Speaking of value, this program is seen as a marketing tool, so attending the White Glove program is gratis if the client buys a new car. “Back in 1912, Mr. Royce wanted drivers to be trained how best to operate his products so that the customers would benefit and the cars would last longer,” explains McCann. “Longevity may not be an issue anymore, but customer satisfaction certainly is.”
The People’s Chauffeurs Go Toe to Toe
To chauffeur, you don’t have to go through Rolls-Royce’s arduous training program. Just drive for a ride-sharing company, where if you have a four-door car and a reasonably clean driving record, you can chauffeur the common man, who will summon you with the tap of a smartphone. Two companies, Uber and Lyft, have ascended to the top of this newly popular ride-sharing world.
Uber and Lyft are even at it in their advertising.
Lyft, which asks its drivers to put fuzzy pink mustaches on the front of their cars, has proved to be quite the pest for larger and more-established Uber, which operates in more than 90 U.S. cities and about 70 elsewhere in the world. U.S.-only Lyft has popped up in almost 70 cities and is taking a bite out of Uber’s business, and a bloodthirsty rivalry has developed between the two.
They’re duking it out by seducing drivers to switch companies, aping each other’s tactics, and undercutting fares. Both have gone so far as to nudge employees to hail an Uber or Lyft ride and cancel soon after, just to waste a driver’s time. And the battle continues to heat up. Uber claims that Lyft investors have told Uber to buy out Lyft because Lyft’s business model is unsustainable, while Lyft says those claims are false and that it will continue to take chunks of market share while building a strong community with its customers.
Let them fight. If you want to chauffeur, vacuum out your car’s back seat and start working for a ride-sharing company. Because however this all plays out, it’s clear the common-man chauffeur is in high demand. —Chris Nelson