Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce talks exclusively with WEALTH Arabia about the brand’s launch of its first all-terrain vehicle and why it’s made for the Gulf consumer
Rolls-Royce is the pinnacle of automobile car creation. That isn’t WEALTH Arabia’s opinion—it’s the global consensus. “Bloomberg did an analysis on which brand is the most cited in top pop songs, and Rolls-Royce was the number one—even though it doesn’t rhyme with anything!” Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce tells WEALTH Arabia.
Müller-Ötvös is not humble about the quality of his cars. In fact, the success of the eighth Phantom model, launched in 2017, is something that Müller-Ötvös is still beaming over. “Phantom is for us the pinnacle of the brand. It’s not us saying that it’s the best card in the world, it’s the whole world who have said it. We have just launched the latest generation, and it’s again called the best car in the world. that is a great reward for us. Phantom is the best money can buy when it comes to luxury transportation. We have put all efforts into the car to go the extra mile in nearly every dimension in comparison to what a Phantom 7 was, and that was already a fascinating fantastic car. Phantom 8 tops it in every dimension,” he tells us. “It’s the feeling that you’re not touching the street when you drive on it— you’re floating. You’re flying. It’s a magic carpet ride, and that is our fundamental brand promise. In terms of serenity, it’s like an acoustic chamber when you close the doors. It’s so silent, so serene. People thought we had to put artificial measures to make that happen—but instead we just engineered it to be sound-proof, and made even the tyres sound-insulated,” he says.
Though Rolls-Royce is synonymous with quality, things were not perfect when Müller-Ötvös took over. One issue was that clientele was trending older and older. “When I joined the business, the average of customer was 56. Now we’re sitting on 45, and that is a remarkable achievement. What was needed for that was you needed to create product substance which was catered not only for younger customers, but which had different customers in mind,” he tells WEALTH.
As part of that, Müller-Ötvös has moved the direction ahead in bold new ways—including the remodelling of the Wraith and the launch of the Black Badge brand, divisive for some customers, but that is something that he was comfortable with—as he thought, rightly so, that it would not lose the brand any customers. Now, Rolls-Royce move ahead in perhaps its boldest direction yet with the launch of Cullinan, the first all-terrain vehicle the brand has brought to market.
“We have tested in in the deserts, in snowy conditions. I even call it the Cullinan effect. People have been highly excited about Cullinan, and some people are even nervous about coming up with their own ideas of what a luxury SUV should be in light of the launch of Cullinan. I like that. Let’s see how that pans out. I’m very confident that we will see an excellent market reaction for Cullinan,” says Müller-Ötvös.
The Middle East is one of the most significant markets in the world for Rolls-Royce—though not exactly what it used to be. “The United States is still our biggest market worldwide, and the Middle East used to be number two worldwide, but that has changed now, as the economy is not as strong. We as Rolls-Royce, and I believe all luxury brands, are not immune against consumer sentiment. When consumer sentiment falters, we feel it. That has happened in the Middle East. But I’m confident that this regional is unbelievably powerful economically, and I think this region will come back. It’s a matter of time,” says Müller-Ötvös.
One thing that the Gulf desires is cars that work both on-road and off-road, equally comfortable cruising up to the valet as they are to a weekend getaway camping site. It is with those customers in mind that Rolls-Royce designed the Cullinan, a car that may help the Middle East become the number two market for Rolls-Royce once again. Customers need an all-terrain vehicle, so all-terrain became Rolls-Royce’s focus.
“That is the reason that we’re bringing the Cullinan to the market,” he tells WEALTH. “The region is not so much just to make an all-terrain vehicle in its purest form, even though the Cullinan is fully capable as an allterrain vehicle, it’s more of a lifestyle vehicle. That comes with these types of cares. The lifestyle is obvious. When you look at the roads here in Dubai, this is such an SUV kind of country, and region. I bet you the Cullinan will be a stunning success here in the Middle East. It will be, at the end of the day, the Rolls-Royce of SUVs,” says Müller-Ötvös.
FOCUS ON BESPOKE
The Middle East is not only driving the market towards SUVs—it is also one of the forerunners of driving Rolls- Royce towards bespoke. “Nobody wants to own a regular Rolls-Royce, everyone wants to make his or her own choice. Over the last years, more and more customers have been coming directly to work with our designers to create their own piece of art. The Middle East has always been leading with bespoke, as well as flamboyant ideas of bespoke, and the region has inspired the rest of the world to show them what is possible. Many customers worldwide have been highly intrigued by what Middle Eastern customers have commissioned. It’s set the tone for many international customers. For that reason, you can say that the Middle East is the leading region for us worldwide when it comes to bespoke. That has spread of course to the US, UK, and China. Ninety-five per cent of all Rolls-Royces now are fully bespoke, and a very fragmented part of our built cars are without any bespoke aspects. Bespoke is growing more and more,” says Müller-Ötvös.
Middle East customers are not only driving bespoke, they were hand selected to be some of the first drivers of the new Cullinan.
“As always, we showcased the product to hand-picked, hand-selected customers up front before we went public, and I think that is usual. If you’re a loyal Rolls-Royce customer, you can expect to get the opportunity to see new product from Rolls-Royce first before the public eye sees it,” says Müller-Ötvös, who then confirms that some were indeed from the region.
It is not just the cars that are pieces of art—Rolls-Royce has even added in the option to build a work of art directly into the vehicle.
“We have now made bespoke up to a whole new level. Our customers love to generate their own masterpieces when they commission a Rolls-Royce. We have a dashboard behind the glass, which allows the customer to commission an artist to generate a piece of art and then you can put it in the glass cabinet. That is something nobody else has ever done before,” says Müller-Ötvös. “The future of luxury is personalisation in every detail. You do not want to have, in that league of customers, what others can have easily. You want to have something that is truly you, truly unique, truly special.”