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Frankly, Saudi Arabia may be number one market for Rolls-Royce, says automaker CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos

DUBAI: The big changes underway in Saudi Arabia could make the Kingdom the number one market in the Middle East for Rolls-Royce cars, Torsten Muller-Otvos, chief executive of the elite car company, told Arab News.

“Saudi Arabia is obviously a big market. I see even more potential to come from Saudi Arabia in the years to come as the market is also now opening and expanding, ”Muller-Otvos said, citing the 2017 royal decree that granted Saudi women the right to drive and obtain driver’s licenses. for the first time.

“We are now seeing the first female drivers in our cars in Saudi Arabia and for this reason I anticipate that in a few years we could talk about this huge and formidable market. It could even be the number one market in the whole region one day. Who knows? In terms of potential, it is possible, but it depends on other aspects, ”he added.

Muller-Otvos delivered his predictions on Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with thought leaders in the Middle East and around the world.

Legend

In the interview, the boss of the British-designed but German-owned luxury car maker presented Rolls-Royce’s roadmap to go fully electric, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on sales global and regional, and the effect of rising oil prices on sales of elite cars.

He also spoke about some of the more extravagant custom features that regional customers want on their cars.

The Rolls-Royce brand, founded in Britain 115 years ago but owned by BMW in Germany since 2003, is the ultimate automotive status symbol, from California to Shanghai, but with special appeal among buyers. Arabs.

The ongoing transition in the global transportation market, with soaring sales of electric vehicles, has impacted Rolls-Royce and other gasoline engine manufacturers. Still, Muller-Otvos says Rolls-Royce is leading the way in electrification in the ultra-luxury market.

A vintage Rolls-Royce is shown on display at the King Abdullah II Automobile Museum in Amman, Jordan on February 18, 2016 (Shutterstock)

“I would even say that we are the first,” he said. “I mean, we don’t compare ourselves to what I would call the ‘normal’ auto industry. We are high in luxury. And you may also know that we are the very first in the ultra-luxury segment in the world.

The first electric Rolls-Royce, the Specter, will be available in the Middle East from 2023. “I can tell you that the Specter will be an amazing and remarkable Rolls-Royce,” said Muller-Otvos. “We also took our time because, first of all, it has to be a Rolls-Royce, which means there is no compromise on luxury experiences for our customers around the world. , and then comes, of course, the electric. “

The Specter – which auto experts say will cost around $ 350,000 for an entry-level vehicle – will play on Rolls-Royce’s traditional strengths. “He’s also silent. We don’t define ourselves with loud engine or exhaust noises and for that reason I think it’s a perfect fit for the brand, ”he said.

Rolls-Royce has announced that its first electric car will be available by 2023. (Provided)

But there were also business and regulatory imperatives for Rolls to enter the electricity market. “We are also seeing certain regulations around the world coming into effect which could mean that in a few years you will no longer be able to enter city centers without driving electric. And that, of course, wouldn’t be great for the brand.

Elon Musk’s Tesla has so far made headlines in the shift to electric vehicles. Today, many traditional automakers in all major markets are jumping on the “EV” bandwagon. However, Muller-Otvos is convinced that Rolls-Royce has traditional strengths in the highly competitive market.

“Rolls-Royce has never defined itself only by the engine. It’s not us. It’s for the other brands. We have defined ourselves as the pinnacle of luxury. It’s about the best materials, the best It takes at least 1,000 hours to build one of these magnificent masterpieces, ”he said.

Muller-Otvos also believes the shift to electric vehicles matches the changing demographics of Rolls-Royce customers. “I think we’ll see a trend, step by step. Younger people are particularly drawn to electric propulsion. What we’ve also learned is that once you’re in an electric car, you probably don’t go back to a combustion car, ”he said.

In the past, Rolls-Royce customers were predominantly men, successful business owners, celebrities or even royalty. This profile is changing.

“When I started – and I’ve been in this role for almost 12 years – the average age of a Rolls-Royce customer was around 56 years old. We are now 43 years old. We have significantly renovated the brand, reinvented the brand, rejuvenated the brand. We now have young clients all over the world, ”he said.

In the Middle East in particular, more women want to drive a Rolls-Royce. “When I arrived, (the clientele) was made up of 1% women in the world. Today we’re about 15% in the world, and I think there are more to come, especially here in the Middle East. You see a lot of female drivers behind the wheel. I think in the Middle East we’re probably talking about 20%, and that’s a pretty good part, ”he said.

A big source of revenue for Rolls-Royce has long been the trend towards personalization – what the automaker calls “tailor-made processes” – where wealthy customers pay extra for the unique features of their cars.

Sometimes that translates into squalid color schemes and weird accessories that would horrify Rolls-Royce traditionalists. But Muller-Otvos does not see himself, nor Rolls-Royce, as an arbiter of individual tastes.

“Let’s imagine for a moment a bright orange exterior and a yellow interior. It might seem a bit strange in central London, but here under bright sunshine it is beautiful. I think you should always keep this in mind. The last thing I want to do is judge – with my European taste – international clients. We are not the taste police at Rolls-Royce, ”he said.

There was a demand for a luxury accessory, however, that went a bit too far – a request from a wealthy customer for a refrigerated cigar compartment on the dashboard.

“The one that was too crazy and that was refused was for a humidifier on the top panel, and that, unfortunately, was not possible, technically, because we would have lost the homologation (regulatory approval)”, a- he declared.

The Cullinan has been tested on the world’s most difficult terrain, including the Arabian deserts. (Photo courtesy of rolls-roycemotorcars.com)

Rolls-Royce has long held a special place in the Arab world, dating back to the time when then British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill presented King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia with a personalized Phantom model as a gift from after war.

The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a sharp drop in Rolls-Royce sales as the Goodwood UK plant was forced to shut down its production line for two months and deliveries were halted .

But it turned out to be the prelude to a rapid acceleration in sales in the Middle East and globally once the recovery took hold, matching a global phenomenon that saw all sales of luxury goods grow after the initial shock of the market. locking. Muller-Otvos had an intriguing explanation for this.

“Many clients have told me that they realized you could die suddenly, and many of them even saw it up close. It got them thinking: you only live once, enjoy your life now, don’t put it off for days later, ”he said.

The new Rolls Royce Ghost – redesigned and relaunched in 2020 – is in high demand in the Middle East (Shutterstock)

The Cullinan, Rolls-Royce’s first foray into the luxury SUV market, was in particular demand in the Gulf, as was the Black Badge Ghost.

As always in the region, the fortunes of the oil market continue to determine the strength of the economy – and Rolls-Royce sales.

“The price of oil here is quite an indicator of the health of the economy and we depend a lot on its development,” Muller-Otvos said. “If the economy flies, we fly.”


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