Rolls-Royce looks beyond China for growth engine

Carmaker's interest turns to Japan and new markets as luxury sales slow on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 5:34am

As sales slow in China, Rolls-Royce is looking to Japan and new markets such as Vietnam and the Philippines to retain its momentum.

The luxury carmaker also has no plans to build an SUV, despite pictures of a purported Rolls-Royce SUV doing the rounds in the cyberspace.

Rolls-Royce's plans to explore new markets this year come amid dwindling sales in China's super premium car segment, in which key players such as Bentley, Aston Martin, Maserati and Lamborghini all saw growth slow last year.

While Rolls-Royce does not give out regional sales figures, the fact that the United States replaced China last year as the company's biggest market points to China's waning appeal to luxury carmakers.

"It is not realistic to expect double-digit growth every year," said Paul Harris, the carmaker's regional director for the Asia-Pacific. "We are about sustainable growth, and we look for balance in our markets."

That is why Rolls-Royce, which targets customers with US$50 million of liquid assets, is opening showrooms in Manila, Hanoi, Perth, Brisbane, plus a couple of Indian cities later this year.

"The Philippines is an interesting growth engine to look at as its overall business attitude has changed significantly in the last two years. Thailand is another place where we see good growth," Harris said, adding that the prospect of Japan was also bright with plans for economic reform.

"Japan has the most high-net-worth individuals in Asia, and confidence there is on the up."

While China will obviously remain an important market, Harris dismissed speculation that the company would build an SUV, a move that every carmaker is making in China because of the category's popularity.

"Our segment is luxury sedans and grand touring. For an SUV or anything outside this territory, we need to ask what it means to our clientele and does it offer us an opportunity," Harris said. "And the answer is, we are not sure."

At the Geneva motor show last year, Bentley unveiled its concept SUV EXP 9F. Aston Martin and Lamborghini also announced their SUV plans.

But Harris said the company was not a "me-too brand" and it did not need to go down roads because others were doing so.