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Rolls-Royce boss is burnishing a legend at electrifying pace

Dream job: Torsten Müller-Ötvös has been CEO of Rolls-Royce for 13 years

It’s a truly electrifying time for RollsRoyce Motor Cars and its veteran CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. The dapper Anglophile German loaded with a treasure trove of Britain’s automotive crown jewels has just announced record global sales and profits for the luxury carmaker. Its very name is synonymous with excellence far beyond cars.

The historic financial performance, which now powers German parent company BMW, comes at a critical juncture. Müller-Ötvös launches RollsRoyce’s very first production electric car – the sporty Specter fast-back. Deliveries are expected to begin later this year.

It is arguably the most important vehicle in the company’s history since the legendary Silver Ghost, whose early feats of endurance propelled the 119-year-old company to the pinnacle of automotive success. Specter marks the first step in an equally important transformation that will see Rolls-Royce, whose cars still carry the famous flying Spirit of Ecstasy on their bows, adapt to the Spirit of Electricity. By the end of 2030, all new Rolls-Royce models will be purely electric.

Dream job: Torsten Müller-Ötvös has been CEO of Rolls-Royce for 13 years

Dream job: Torsten Müller-Ötvös has been CEO of Rolls-Royce for 13 years

Müller-Ötvös has been CEO for 13 years, his contract having been extended past 60, when members of the parent BMW group’s board are normally required to step down.

The 62-year-old hails Rolls-Royce’s performance last year as “a great British achievement” and believes 2023 will also be a good year. But he points out: “Sales are not our only measure of success: we are not and never will be a mass manufacturer.

He thrived in a “dream job” and still pinches himself, he admits. After university and compulsory military service, he joined the BMW Group in 1989, where he rose to increasingly senior positions in marketing, strategic planning and product management, including for Mini, before being appointed to the head of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in 2010.

BMW took control of Rolls-Royce in 1998 after an epic battle with Volkswagen. In the fallout, Volkswagen took over Bentley and the Crewe plant it had shared with Rolls-Royce. BMW has set up its new purchase with a boutique in Goodwood, near Chichester, West Sussex – celebrating its 20th anniversary this month.

He and BMW are privileged ‘stewards’ of the brand founded in 1904 at Manchester’s Midland Hotel by the Honorable Charles Rolls and engineering genius Sir Henry Royce with, he says, an almost sacred duty of care.

Müller-Ötvös hopes his own lasting legacy will be the rejuvenation of the Rolls-Royce brand to appeal to younger, wealthier customers: “We’ve modernized it over the past 13 years. So much so that the average age of Rolls-Royce buyers dropped during his tenure from 57 to 43 – “now even younger than Mini”.

The brand’s continued existence as the first super-luxury brand to launch an electric car was another milestone along with the “once unthinkable” step of producing a Rolls-Royce SUV, the Cullinan, he says.

The SUV represents 50% of sales, well ahead of the Ghost with 30%. Pre-orders of the new electric Spectre, priced at around £350,000, ranging up to £500,000 with bespoke extras, have also exceeded lofty expectations ahead of first deliveries from this autumn, he said. declared. =

Evolving with the times is, so far, obviously effective. Overall, Rolls-Royce celebrated its best ever sales in 2022 with 6,021 cars, an increase of 8% or 435 cars from the previous record of 5,586 set in 2021. This is the first time that sales exceed 6,000 in a single 12-month period. period.

Very wealthy customers ordering bespoke and highly personalized luxury cars have helped propel sales and profitability. Bespoke commissions included the second in a one-off series of three ‘Boat Tail’ convertibles – rumored to have cost £20m each.

Variants of the “Black Badge” model – described by Rolls-Royce as its “more rebellious alter ego” – have also seen “extraordinary growth”. The Middle East, which accounts for 10% of sales, is particularly strong for high one-off ‘bespoke’ commissions, so Rolls-Royce has opened its first invitation-only ‘private office’ outside Goodwood for discreet consultations with VIP customers.

Others will follow around the world. Rolls-Royce’s biggest market, the Americas, accounted for 30% of sales last year, China 25% and Europe 20%.

Rolls-Royce does not publish detailed accounts separately from German parent company BMW. But industry experts believe the company is neck and neck with Italy’s Ferrari as the world’s most profitable automaker, with an estimated 50% return on investment. The company has an “unwavering focus” on profit, is all Müller-Ötvös will say. ‘Rest assured, BMW in Munich is very satisfied with our performance. We will certainly deliver a record result to them this year.

He says that means Rolls-Royce doesn’t need any handouts from its parent company. All investments in Rolls-Royce come from self-generated money and there is “no appetite” for a stock market listing. Passionate, serious and detail-oriented, Müller-Ötvös also displays a wasp-like sense of humor honed by his exposure to rabid Britons.

‘I really like it here. I will never completely leave the UK. I will always come back with lots of great memories,” he says, referring to his career at BMW helping to re-establish Mini and dealing with Land Rover when BMW owned Rover Group. He points out that the success would not have been possible without Goodwood’s 2,500-strong workforce that hand-builds the high-tech luxury vehicles, recently boosted by 250 new jobs.

Midas touch: Rolls-Royce's new electric Specter marks the first step in a major transformation

Midas touch: Rolls-Royce’s new electric Specter marks the first step in a major transformation

Regarding the contrasting Anglo-German approaches to challenges, he says the British are superb at thinking and adapting, but are not the best planners. The Germans, on the other hand, provide for all eventualities and often to excess, but can be totally thrown off if someone throws an unexpected wrench into the works.

“I witness it very often. What I like about all of our British colleagues here, especially our craftsmen, is that they are great when it comes to sudden problems that arise. They can solve problems very quickly in unconventional ways,” he says.

He adds: “I think that kind of combination – between typical German engineering to perfection and the ability of British craftsmen here in the UK – is a perfect combination that makes Rolls-Royce so strong.”

I witnessed Rolls-Royce’s remarkable transformation up close with Müller-Ötvös, even flying with him in a compact executive jet to the remote Swedish community of Arjeplog, on the edge of the frozen Arctic Circle, to make a first exclusive ride on ice and snow in the passenger seat of a Specter prototype during cold weather testing. Soon I will join him again to drive the Specter for myself.

Time will prove that the electric evolution, he says, was “absolutely the right decision and that electric is the perfect propulsion for a Rolls-Royce”.

He admits: “I pinch myself. It is an honor to work for Rolls-Royce Motor Company. I also want to make our founding fathers proud – Sir Henry Royce and Charles Rolls. I’d like to think they approve.

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