Rolls-Royce follows Bentley, becoming latest luxury brand to weigh SUV
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd., the ultra-luxury carmaker owned by Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, is considering a sport-utility vehicle, following Bentley’s lead in the race to make the world’s most exclusive crossover.
“We are intensively thinking about entering the SUV segment,” Rolls-Royce Chief Executive Officer Torsten Mueller- Oetvoes said in an interview at the International Auto Show in Frankfurt.
A Rolls-Royce model could cost more than the first SUV from Volkswagen AG’s Bentley, which will go on sale in 2016 and is set to cost about $240,000. Rolls-Royce’s cheapest car is the $234,000 Wraith coupe.
A Rolls-Royce SUV would be part of an upmarket shift for a vehicle style that became popular because of its high-riding position and ample storage space. Fiat SpA’s Maserati plans to start production of the Levante SUV in 2015. Jaguar showed a crossover concept at the Frankfurt show.
“The SUV segment is very interesting,” Mueller-Oetvoes said. “It has been incredibly stable during the crisis, and I think a luxury niche will develop.”
Rolls-Royce is beginning the evaluation by having designers draw up sketches as a first step in deciding whether an SUV fits the brand, Mueller-Oetvoes said.
BMW overhauled Rolls-Royce’s product offering and relocated the carmaker from its traditional home in Crewe, England, to a new facility in Goodwood, following its acquisition of the brand in 1998. The top-of-the-line Phantom, which starts at $402,940, was introduced in 2003. The smaller Ghost, which costs $263,200, was introduced in 2009.
The Wraith debuted at the Geneva motor show in March and will help to increase sales volume, the CEO said. After beating 2011’s record with deliveries of 3,575 vehicles in 2012, the Rolls-Royce chief is “cautiously optimistic” about posting a new high this year. With the full availability of the Wraith, the brand aims to sell more than 4,000 cars next year, he said.
“Rolls-Royce has expanded its brand and product portfolio very cautiously in the last couple of years,” Peter Schwarzenbauer, BMW’s management board member responsible for Rolls-Royce, said in an interview. “We are always considering new concepts and segments which could fit to the brand.”
The next car being introduced could be a convertible, or so-called drophead, version of the Wraith “in a couple of years,” Mueller-Oetvoes said. Even with the expansion, Rolls- Royce is keeping its focus on exclusivity and profit rather than on volume, he said.
Rolls-Royce is “highly profitable” and has earned back all the investment made in the brand by BMW, including the 40 million euros spent for the Goodwood headquarters and production plant, Mueller-Oetvoes said.
There are natural limits to the brand’s growth. With the factory set in a nature conservation area, maximum production capacity is limited to 5,000 vehicles a year, he said.