BMW's Project Rolls-Royce has begun building the first training car at its new factory in Goodwood, England.
The first unit will be used to practice assembling the new Rolls-Royce, which will debut in January after BMW takes control of the brand from Volkswagen.
Code-named RR01, the new Rolls will feature an aluminum spaceframe and a new engine based on BMW's V-12. The engines and bodies will be manufactured in Germany and transported to the UK. The engines will be specially hand-built for Rolls-Royce at BMW's plant in Dingolfing, Germany.
The engine will produce the kind of low-end torque Rolls-Royce customers expect, said Fred Fruth, general manager for public affairs. Customers complained about the previous BMW engines in the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph and Bentley Arnage because they didn't have enough low-end torque, he said.
BMW officials decline to say what percentage of the new Rolls-Royce will be sourced in Germany. But officials acknowledge they will use their Bavarian supplier base.
The Goodwood factory will have capacity for about 1,000 cars a year.
Project Rolls-Royce attracted numerous job applications, according to Fruth. The company hired about 100 workers from 2,200 applications and will add another 100 during the next few months. Among those are the all-important wood and leather specialists.
West Sussex, the county in which the factory is located, is a pleasure-boat building center, and some of the wood and leather expertise will come from outside the car industry.
In all, about 350 workers will be employed on a single shift. Project Rolls-Royce has said it is not interested in stealing workers from Crewe, where the last few Rolls-Royces are being made under Volkswagen ownership. But Rolls-Royce did hire project director Tony Gott away from Crewe.
BMW takes over the brand on January 1, 2003. Gott had been president of Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motors Cars.
Job One will be built probably around October, Fruth said.
With Project Rolls-Royce will be entering a very small but intensely competitive segment at the top end of the car market. Biggest competitors will be the Maybach from DaimlerChrysler and Bentley.
Philipp Rosengarten, analyst for DRI-WEFA in Frankfurt, said BMW will have a hard job maintaining the prestige image of Rolls-Royce now that it is leaving its home in Crewe.
'The latest thing was seeing the Queen riding in a Bentley and not a Rolls-Royce any more,' he said. 'That's quite a blow for them.'
But Rosengarten said BMW is off to a good start with its new factory.
'Goodwood is a good idea in terms of getting the brand right,' he said. 'This is very nice place. It has the right credentials. That's very important.'
He said the factory should be perfect for Rolls-Royce customers. Many like to visit the factory to take delivery of their vehicles.
'Crewe never was a beautiful factory,' said Rosengarten. 'Goodwood is quite a classy one. You have the nice park.'
The annual Goodwood Festival of Speed, the horse-racing tradition and nearby golf courses will keep customers entertained while they wait for their cars, he said.
'I don't know where you would find a better place in England to do that,' he said. 'You can spoil your customers while they're waiting.'