Rolls-Royce set a record by delivering 4,063 cars worldwide in 2014, and CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes, 54, expects to top that total this year. Now the BMW-owned British ultraluxury brand must decide whether to stretch its prized exclusivity even further with the addition of an SUV.
Mueller-Oetvoes discussed that topic and more with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Nick Gibbs.
Will 2015 be another record sales year?
I am quietly confident. While it depends very much on the worldwide economy, we should at least sell one car more than last year.
Why did Rolls-Royce do so well in the U.S.?
Last year we grew in the U.S. by an unbelievable amount: 30 percent. One reason is that the Wraith is a smash hit in the North American market. Also, the economy is good.
Will the growth continue in North America?
I can't say. We never push volumes. My targets are very much focused on profitability. Chasing volume is nonsense in the ultraluxury car business.
How does Rolls-Royce limit volume?
One is that we will not offer any model below the Ghost [in price], so we are not offering cheaper cars. No. 2, we will always stay in the U.K. so we are not building a new plant somewhere else. And since our plant [in Goodwood, southern England] is situated in an area of natural beauty, we can't just double its size. However, we are making room for the new Drophead Coupe that will come to market in mid-2016.
How much will the new model boost output?
We are producing 4,000 cars a year, so probably another 1,000. That indicates we are not in a race to reach a volume of 15,000 to 20,000. When you talk to our customers about volume, you see worried faces.
Is 5,000 Rolls-Royce's peak production level?
The forecast from private banks and analysts is that the number of ultrahigh-net-worth individuals is growing between 3 and 5 percent a year. For that reason, let's wait and see what happens, but I don't see us in five-digit volume numbers.
Has BMW given Rolls-Royce a CO2 target?
We are a little drop in the overall BMW Group's fleet and for that reason we are carried within BMW on emissions regulations.
What future powertrains will Rolls-Royce add?
Our customers love 12 cylinders. Electric power also fits very well: It's powerful, it's silent, it's got a lot of torque, but the range is insufficient and the charging time too long. That is unacceptable for Rolls-Royce.
What about plug-in hybrids?
A plug-in might be an in-between solution. In the long term we need an alternative drivetrain at Rolls-Royce. We might even be forced into that, for example, if you are only allowed to drive into city centers in electric mode.
Is Rolls-Royce investigating?
We don't have a plug-in prototype.
How profitable is Rolls-Royce?
We don't publish these numbers, but I can tell you we are highly profitable.
What percentage of customers comes to Goodwood?
About 30 percent. We have an airport close by where you can land your private jet.
How many other cars does a Rolls-Royce customer have?
On average it's six or seven.
What is Rolls-Royce's competition?
In this segment it is not about should I buy this car or should I buy a Rolls-Royce. If they like both they will buy both. Our competition is a chalet in the Swiss Alps, a beautiful piece of art or a watch. We are not in the business where customers say, "Oops, my lease contract has expired. What do I buy next?"
Is Russia's sales slide harming Rolls-Royce?
Russia was brilliant for us last year. The Wraith was a hit and we saw growth from the very first day of last year. Recently customers have been coming in and investing their rubles into real assets such as a Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce's sales dropped in China last year. How much?
Not a lot. We are not disclosing numbers. We didn't sell as many cars [as in 2013] for the obvious reasons -- governmental actions and investigations into where money is coming from.
This happens from time to time and for that reason we need to be globally well-balanced.