Alasdair Stewart, 35, has been CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Inc. in Paramus, N.J., since December 1998. He joined the U.S. sales and marketing subsidiary after Volkswagen AG bought the British parent company last year.
One of Stewart's first duties is to move the U.S. company to Volkswagen of America Inc. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., in May.
Under an agreement with BMW AG, VW owns both Rolls-Royce and its Bentley brand through 2002. Then VW keeps the Bentley brand and the Rolls-Royce factory in Crewe, England; BMW will take over the Rolls-Royce brand.
Stewart was interviewed last week at the New York Interna-tional Auto Show by Staff Reporter Jim Henry.
How is VW ownership going?
Volkswagen brings to us massive resources, massive engineering know-how, massive manufacturing capability. They also have a sensitivity to how we're different in the application of that expertise.
Is VW building an end-to-end lineup of brands, the way Ford seems to be doing with Ford-Mercury-Lincoln-Volvo-Jaguar?
VW's brand strategy is to have a separate customer experience for each of the brands they have.
If I were BMW, I would be concerned that VW might neglect the Rolls-Royce brand since VW will be giving it up in four years.
Until the end of 2002, Rolls-Royce is an integral part of our business. Over that time (until the split), there will be investments made in Rolls-Royce, and both VW and BMW will contribute, subject to whatever agreements they have made.
Even before the VW acquisition, Rolls-Royce was putting a lot of its energy into the Bentley brand, right?
Yes. The major job we have is to raise the awareness of the Bentley marque. Our volume ambitions are based on the Bentley marque. Bentley over here really does not mean a lot to people, does it? We need to work on that.
How do you do that?
To do that, we have to address our distribution. We have a number of very, very good dealers, and we have a number who treat it like a hobby. We have about 40 (U.S.) dealers now, selling an average of 14 or 15 cars (annually). We don't want a massive change in the dealer count, but we need some dealers who will be selling 100 cars (per year).
Will you be introducing less-expensive Bentleys to close the big gap in price between Audi and Bentley?
We will undergo some repositioning. You're right, we will need to close that (gap).