Rolls-Royce is riding high in China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 January, 2012, 12:00am


Red-hot mainland sales of ultra-luxury limousines is set to cool this year, but the head of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars still sees another record-setting year globally for the British carmaker.

Sales of 'Rollers' on the mainland rose 60 per cent last year, helping China overtake the US as the company's single biggest market.

'It was a close race between the US and China,' Rolls-Royce chief executive Torsten Muller-Otvos said. 'If you asked me in the beginning of last year which would be first, I wouldn't have bet on China. But they made it, and it's really astonishing.'

The carmaker sold 3,538 vehicles last year, a 31 per cent rise over 2010's figure and the highest-ever annual total in the company's 107-year history.

Rolls-Royce, owned by Germany's BMW, joins other luxury carmakers including Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin in banking on the growing number of newly minted mainland millionaires to help boost sales globally.

But slowing economic expansion coupled with the compounding effects of growth-on-growth means the breakneck pace of increasing mainland sales is bound to slow.

China now accounted for about 30 per cent of Rolls-Royce's total sales volumes, Muller-Otvos said.

'I think we are going to see that level remain constant in the coming years, as we also see growth in other regions of the world, and as there is not, any longer, explosive growth to come,' he said. The mainland market 'will be growing, but not doubling sales this year, tripling the next, and all that stuff'.

Rolls-Royce doubled its mainland dealerships over the past year to 14, and is in negotiations to add more showrooms in a number of second-tier cities.

Its portfolio consists of two main models: the 5.4-metre-long Ghost, which retails from 4.2 million yuan (HK$5.16 million), and the 5.8-metre Phantom, which starts at over 7 million yuan. The cars also come in several varieties, such as convertibles and ones with extended wheelbases.

Black, dark grey and dark blue are the most popular colours, while Muller-Otvos estimates about 80 per cent of mainland buyers opt for 'consort red' for the leather interior upholstery - 'red is seen as being a lucky colour', he says.

Options and bespoke customisations are becoming increasingly important to boosting profitability, and the company is expanding its production facility in Goodwood, England, largely to cater to this growing trend.

At the same time, Rolls Royce in the second half of last year announced a limited edition 'Year of the Dragon' model, which sold out within two months.