Name: Torsten Muller-Otvos
Designation: Chief executive officer, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars
His Challenge: Regaining quality standards that had slipped in the 1980s; restoring customer
confidence in the brand
The Way Ahead: Considering alternatives like hybrid or electric cars while maintaining brand image
Rolls-Royce has been a symbol of luxury that goes back generations. How has that evolved?
The people who drive Rolls-Royce are stars, celebrities, royalty and self-made entrepreneurs so that [the fact that it is a symbol of luxury] still holds true. That is combined with this unbelievable detailing in terms of craftsmanship, which a Rolls-Royce is. We have gathered together in Goodwood — our plant — the best experts you would imagine in wood, leather, embroidery technologies, inlays in wood for the magic carpet ride. It takes over 400 hours to build each car and all those stories are still true, otherwise it wouldn’t be a Rolls-Royce; all that myth is very much still alive.
In the modern age, is the challenge of sustaining that myth more difficult?
I would say it is not more difficult, but you need to be 100 percent authentic. We can’t talk craftsmanship and then not prove it. You need to show substance — what is in your car, what is the customer service you are doing? For instance, here in India, all our dealerships have set up flying doctors to help customers even when they are far away from Delhi or Mumbai. Our dealers in these cities also give the utmost customer service. The big risk with the new media is that when something isn’t working you will be faced with some critical reaction. So, if you ask me what’s the challenge given new media, it is that you need to be authentic, you need to be spot on and you need to be honest and you need to prove every day what the substance of your brand is and what your brand stands for.
In the last 10 years, what are the new things that have gone into the vehicle?
What has been completely [re]engineered is the whole noise insulation system that goes into a Rolls-Royce. The whole body, the way we paint and polish the car three or four times — this is unique. And what we call the mirror effect, when you look at the paint, you see yourself. It means that we polish the car four times. This is a technology which was developed by Rolls-Royce and refined over the years.
What was the challenge when BMW took over Rolls-Royce?
The first clear task was to bring back authenticity to the brand, bring back what the brand stood for over the decades. And that is utmost quality. The Silver Ghost, which is the most famous car of Rolls-Royce, has proven what the Rolls-Royce is — sustainability, quality and excellent engineering. This was brought back. The Phantom was always the pinnacle of the Rolls-Royce brand. We started with the Phantom and this was exactly the right strategy to bring back the conviction among people that Rolls-Royce is back in terms of quality craftsmanship.
This is now the second stage where we have brought in an additional model [Ghost] into the range which has always proved successful for the brand. Last year, we have sold 2,700 cars in the world, which proves that the brand is really strong.
Who would you consider as competition for Rolls-Royce?
It might be some other car manufacturer but quite often it is business jets, it is helicopters, it is jewelry, it is a new home in South France or whatever. In a real sense, these are our competitors. Because it is very much about spending your money to reward yourself for what you have achieved in life. It is a symbol of success.
When one thinks of Rolls-Royce, for some reason one always thinks of crusty old men. How do you make sure that the Rolls-Royce sinks into the soul of young, self-made guys as well?