Mainland sales up 10 times for Rolls-Royce

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 April, 2011, 12:00am

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Paying an extra 1 million yuan (HK$1.18 million) for a car that is 17cm longer than its standard version may sound like extravagance.

Which, of course, is precisely the point - especially if you happen to be uber-rich and from the mainland.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, the ultra-luxury British brand owned by Germany's BMW, launched the extended wheelbase version of its popular Ghost car in Shanghai this week - the first time the firm has debuted a global car model in Asia.

The new model adds 17cm to the Ghost's overall length, mostly for backseat legroom (nearly all buyers in China have chauffeurs). It will retail on the mainland from 5.12 million yuan compared with 4.2 million yuan for the standard version, which is already far from stubby at a length of 5.4 metres.

'The space in the back with the regular wheelbase is enough,' Rolls- Royce chief executive Torsten Muller-Otvos said on the sidelines of the Shanghai car show. 'But it can't be enough here, you need to have even more in these markets,' he said. 'Okay, fine, we are doing that.'

The standard version of the Ghost, the younger brother to the bigger and pricier Phantom, features 1.075 metres of rear legroom, according to the Rolls-Royce website.

Rolls-Royce is one of several luxury carmakers, including Volkswagen's Bentley and Audi, Daimler's Mercedes-Benz and BMW that are enjoying a multi-year sales bonanza driven by the rising ranks of newly rich on the mainland.

Rolls-Royce plans to add three new mainland dealerships this year in Chongqing, Tianjin and Wuhan, bringing its total number of mainland sales outlets to 10 - second only to the United States. The company has 81 showrooms worldwide.

The expansion comes as the luxury marque's mainland sales soared by more than 1,000 per cent last year, to 336 cars from 29 cars in 2009, according to data from automotive consultancy J.D. Power and Associates.

The mainland, Hong Kong and Macau together now rank as Rolls-Royce's No 2 global market after the US. 'It might be a head-to-head race this year,' Muller-Otvos said. 'Last year the US was a comfortable No 1 in volume. But let's wait and see what happens this year.'

Part of the challenge now for Rolls-Royce is not to overexpand its network of dealers on the mainland.

'First I want to see the growth and see it is sustainable, then it will be the right time to think about more dealers,' Muller-Otvos said. 'We have thousands of applicants who want to be Rolls-Royce dealers on mainland China.'

Last year's explosive sales growth was driven by the mainland launch of the standard version of the Ghost. Rolls-Royce sold 238 Ghosts on the mainland last year and 98 Phantoms, larger cars that start at over 7 million yuan for the standard version.

An extended wheelbase version of the Phantom stretches 6.09 metres from bumper to bumper and retails on the mainland from over 9 million yuan. Its 1.36 metres of backseat legroom? Priceless.

While sales aren't growing as fast on the mainland, Hong Kong famously remains the city with the world's most Rolls-Royce's per capita, according to Muller-Otvos.

'That mirrors in general the different structure of the total auto market in Hong Kong, which is 50 per cent luxury,' he said.

'You won't find any other city or country in the world that has that structure to its car market.'

Muller-Otvos sees no signs that the growth of ultra-luxury car sales on the mainland will let up anytime soon.

'Look at the number of millionaires that will be created in the coming years, look at the economic growth rates.

'I believe there is still a lot of growth potential to come here in the next few years.'