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Rolls-Royce Ready for Record Year

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 8/26/2014 Scott Burgess

Those fortunate enough to visit the Rolls-Royce Villa at Monterey Car Week saw more than some of the most expensive cars in the world. Whales swam into Monterey Bay one afternoon and sea lions another. Otters played in the waves near the stone patio, floating on their backs as they cracked shells on their stomachs for an afternoon snack.

Rolls-Royce owners, members of one of the most exclusive automotive clubs, could enjoy the sunny afternoons along 17 Mile Drive from the villa in between test driving cars with price tags that can easily top half a million dollars. Ah, these are truly salad days for some.

torsten-muller-otvos-rolls-royce-ceo© Provided by MotorTrend torsten-muller-otvos-rolls-royce-ceo At the helm of Rolls-Royce is Torsten Muller-Otvos, the CEO for the past four years. Motor Trend had the chance to join Muller-Otvos for breakfast on Sunday morning before the mass of people walked the Pebble Beach fairways for the famed Concours d'Elegance.

Impeccably dressed in a summer blazer, light slacks, and handcrafted leather shoes, Muller-Otvos did not even eat. Instead, he gave us his complete attention, looking everyone in the eye and enthusiastically answering every question for more than an hour.

What is the strangest request has Rolls-Royce had from a customer? What are the brand's sales goals? What's the next vehicle for Rolls-Royce?

"I'm surprised no one asked me about an SUV," he joked at the end of the interview. "Someone always asks about that. 'When will Rolls-Royce build an SUV?' We are not going to make one."

It may not be necessary right now. Rolls-Royce has been on, well, a roll of sorts. The brand, which is owned by BMW, is expected to sell more than 4,000 vehicles this year, setting a new record for the 111-year-old marque.

"But volume is not the most important thing for us," Muller-Otvos said. "We will never sell more than 5,000 units. I am not measured on volume; I am measured on profit."

Of course, the Pebble Beach show was, for Rolls-Royce, about more than celebrating the rich heritage of the automotive world; it was also about moving metal. Executives at the brand estimate 10 percent of their sales in North America can be directly tied to its presence at Pebble Beach.

"Yes, this whole week here is one of the most important in the U.S.," Muller-Otvos said. "It is here that the idea is fertilized for some to buy a Rolls-Royce, though often the car is not purchased here."

Well, not always, but sometimes. During one event at the villa, a Phantom Drophead Coupe with a bright orange interior was on display. When one Rolls-Royce customer saw it, he had to have it. Within 10 minutes of his arrival he put a $50,000 deposit down on his credit card.

For many Rolls-Royce customers, that is simply the way life goes. See something, want something, and own it.

2014 rolls royce phantom drophead coupe© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 rolls royce phantom drophead coupe But most customers -- between 70 percent and 80 percent -- have to wait. Rolls-Royce works with them to create their vehicles through its bespoke program. Customers are given access to designers and engineers who help create a completely customized vehicle. There are very few requests that are not fulfilled, no matter what others might think of paint colors created to match a wife's eyes or the fur of a favorite pet.

"We are not the taste police," Muller-Otvos says about some of the requests. "Bespoke is the crown jewel of the brand. If we couldn't offer that, Rolls-Royce would not be seen as a complete, proper brand."

The program, which includes 50 employees, allows customers to do nearly anything with their car. Rolls-Royce has included safes, bars and special televisions at a customer's request. The only place Rolls-Royce draws the line is when it comes to removing safety features from the vehicle.

"We did deny one customer's request to remove some of the car's airbags in order to put in a bigger humidor."

Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe Waterspeed Collection Front Side View© Provided by MotorTrend Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe Waterspeed Collection Front Side View But even that customer likely drove away happy.

"Owners are not simply transporting a person from A to B; they are buying the best car for their money."

The quality of the vehicles is never in doubt, and anyone who's skeptical is invited to the Rolls facility in Goodwood, England. There, customers can walk along the assembly line and talk to workers as they build vehicles. They can see the handcrafted seats or the fine-tuning of the miraculous engines that go inside these beasts. As for quality, nearly 75 percent of all Rolls-Royces ever built are still on the road today.

But even with that impressive statistic, Rolls-Royce offers a sense of exclusivity that no other brand can manage. "Rolls-Royce is always a statement and will always be a statement," he said. "One of our owners does not want to drive around the corner and see another car just like theirs."

And they rarely do.

One adjustment American Rolls-Royce customers have had to make is becoming more patient.

"Americans, when they want a car, they want it now," he said. "But in other parts of the world, they brag over how long it takes their car to be built. 'Oh, your car took two months to build? Mine took six."

Obviously, those are problems most people never encounter. But for a brand that promotes the highest of luxury, these are the things that push it so much further ahead than others. It is a brand that is just as at home at Pebble Beach as the whales, sea lions, and otters.

"We see lots of friends here," Muller-Otvos said. "It's like coming home." 1961 Rolls Royce Phantom V James Young Sedanca De Ville© Provided by MotorTrend 1961 Rolls Royce Phantom V James Young Sedanca De Ville

Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe Waterspeed Collection Side View© Provided by MotorTrend Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe Waterspeed Collection Side View
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